CHICAGO (CBS) — The governor of historically pro-union Michigan has signed “right to work” legislation that severely limits union powers, making that state – for decades a union stronghold, particularly due to Detroit’s auto industry – the 24th in the nation to become a “right to work” state.
CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports on the chances such legislation could be passed in Illinois.
Perhaps you’ve seen a TV commercial produced and paid for by the Chicago Federation of Labor, which tells viewers union workers “didn’t just build this city. We’re its mortar, its steel backbone, its heart, its future.”
But is that future certain in the face of “right to work” laws being passed in more states?
Ed Maher, spokesman for the International Union of Operating Engineers, said, “There are republicans in Michigan who believe that ‘right to work’ is good public policy, and there are Republicans who don’t.”
That’s significant, because Republicans control both houses of the legislature in Michigan, and the Republican governor has said he’ll sign the “right to work” law.
In Illinois, Democrats – long supported by labor unions – have majorities in the House and Senate – and will have veto-proof majorities starting in January — and Gov. Pat Quinn also is a Democrat.
Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the conservative Illinois Policy Institute said, “It certainly complicates things, but that can change with just one election cycle.”
Maher said so-called “right to work” legislation does not offer any new freedoms to workers, but only restricts the rights of labor unions. Critics have said such legislation is designed to shrink the size of labor unions, giving them less leverage in fighting for better wages and benefits for workers.
But Kersey said the Illinois Policy Institute will launch a public relations campaign to tell workers that labor unions don’t always act in the best interests of their members.
The Michigan legislature has passed two “right to work” measures — one focusing on the private sector, the other focusing on the public sector — preventing contract agreements in which employees are required to pay union dues.
Kersey said workers should be trusted with the choice of whether to join a labor union, rather than required to join a union to get a specific job.
“If the union’s working in your best interest, most workers will join the union. If a union isn’t working in your best interest, you should be free to withhold your support,” Kersey said.
The unions and their allies have promised to fight back.
“I would say that this policy is designed to weaken unions, and try to kick a leg out from the stool of Democratic support nationally,” Maher said.
Illinois Democrats agree with that last argument, so it’s unlikely a “right to work” law will pass here anytime soon, if ever.
But union leaders said they’re taking nothing for granted, so there might still be a battle of messages for and against the legislation, in an effort to sway public opinion.