Right To Work Signing

Gov. J.B. Pritzker hands a pen to Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, after signing a bill that prohibits local governments in Illinois from enacting right-to-work ordinances. 

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed legislation barring local governments from establishing what is known as right-to-work zones.

The bill prohibits laws barring employers and labor organizations from signing contracts that require workers to join unions or pay dues. 

“From the start, right-to-work was an idea cooked up to lower wages, slash benefits and hurt our working families. Right-to-work has always meant right to work for less money, and it’s wrong for Illinois,” Pritzker said during a bill-signing ceremony in his Statehouse office. 

The Chicago Democrat said the legislation "makes it abundantly clear that we have turned the page here in Illinois."

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner was a proponent of right-to-work zones. In 2017, Rauner vetoed a previous version of the bill.

The law, which takes effect immediately, is a result of the Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire creating a right-to-work zone in 2015. The ordinance was overturned by a federal court, but the village has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The first right-to-work laws in the United States were enacted in the 1940s, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when soldiers were returning home and the U.S. economy was shifting from war production to civilian manufacturing.

Marc Dixon, a sociologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said during an August 2018 interview that different arguments have been used over the years to campaign for them.

The first states to adopt them were primarily in the South, he said, where the laws were used to weaken labor unions, especially the Congress of International Organizations, or CIO, which were actively supporting civil rights legislation for African-Americans.

Later, in the 1950s, he said, they were supported by people who claimed certain labor unions embraced communist sympathies or had ties to organized crime.

More recently, supporters have argued for right-to-work laws on the basis of free speech. As more and more blue-collar workers aligned with the Republican Party, supporters have argued that workers should not be forced to unions that, broadly speaking, tend to support Democrats.

Asked about the potential for a U.S. Supreme Court review, Pritzker said he is confident the new Illinois law would be upheld.

“The law as it is does not allow a state to hand this responsibility down to local communities,” he said. “This bill actually just establishes what is the law today, so I believe that that would be moot, essentially, at the Supreme Court.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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