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This is my first submission to the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit, non-political organization that deserves your support.
Illinois Chamber Misses the Boat on Right-to-Work
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce recently took interesting, as well as contradictory, positions regarding the minimum wage and Right-to-Work legislation.
On one hand, the chamber is not in favor of minimum-wage hikes for Illinois. On the other, the chamber says “Illinois doesn’t need right to work (laws) to compete with its neighbors.”
At the root of both of these policy issues is the state’s ability to compete and attract job creators. If the chamber acknowledges that a minimum-wage increase is a jobs killer, how can it oppose Right to Work, which is proven to attract new businesses?
The Chicago Tribune highlighted the chamber’s positions in the article, “Minimum wage battles to continue in 2015.”
Chicago’s minimum wage will rise to $13 an hour in 2019 from the current $8.25 an hour.
The Tribune noted the organizations that came out against the hike:
“Business groups, including the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Restaurant Association, said the city’s measure was a job killer. They warned that Chicago’s increase would drive many companies out of the city and force others to layoff employees or to close. Raising minimum wage, they said, has a domino effect as higher-paid workers also will expect increases, putting more pressure on the profitability of small businesses.”Strangely, Maisch also contended “Illinois doesn’t need right to work (laws) to compete with its neighbors.”
“We will be resisting a minimum wage increase very heavily,” said Illinois Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Todd Maisch, adding that minimum-wage increases put employers at a competitive disadvantage.
Those positions are contradictory. To understand why, one must investigate the tie between “prevailing wage” laws, Right-to-Work laws and collective bargaining.
Illinois’ Prevailing Wage Act governs the wages a contractor or subcontractor is required to pay to all “laborers, workers and mechanics” who perform work on public projects. This wage is to be “no less than the general prevailing hourly rate as paid for work of a similar character in the locality in which the work is performed.”
As the Illinois Policy Institute noted in Unions take advantage of Illinois’ prevailing wage law, “This almost always is taken to mean the union rate, even though union workers make up less than 40 percent of the construction workforce and union wages are often 50 percent higher than those of nonunion workers.”
Want to repair roads? Add another wing onto a public school? Fund a bond for any public project? Cities have to pay the “prevailing rate.” Those prevailing rates apply to every imaginable public project, spilling over into many private projects as well.
Prevailing rates are in direct opposition to the idea behind Right-to-Work laws. Under properly formed Right-to-Work legislation, any contractor should be able to bid on any project, regardless of a government-mandated prevailing wage.
Preferably, the needed legislation on these two issues should be accomplished in one fell swoop. If it takes two acts, one for Right to Work and another to repeal prevailing wages, so be it.
The third piece of the puzzle is collective bargaining.
Wisconsin Offers Example on Collective Bargaining
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker passed legislation in 2011 to eliminate collective bargaining for most public workers in the Badger State.
Then a curious thing happened, as reported by the Washington Examiner:
“The Kaukauna School District, in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin near Appleton, has about 4,200 students and about 400 employees. It has struggled in recent times and this year faced a deficit of $400,000. But after the law went into effect, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, school officials put in place new policies they estimate will turn that $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus. And it’s all because of the very provisions that union leaders predicted would be disastrous.Some of the most important improvements in Kaukauna’s outlook are because of the new limits on collective bargaining.
Overnight, the Kaukauna, Wisconsin, school district turned a $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus. In essence, Illinois needs to do the same.
Specifically, Illinois desperately needs to do three things, all of them related:
- Eliminate collective bargaining of public unions
- Pass Right-to-Work legislation
- Scrap prevailing-wage legislation
Whether this is done in one fell swoop or in three separate acts does not matter except in terms of time, and Illinoisans have little time to spare.
Businesses and private citizens are fleeing the state at record rates in search of a healthier business climate and to avoid enormous property taxes. Illinois cannot afford for these losses to continue much longer, especially if another national recession should occur. Illinois fared poorly in the last recovery, and another recession may very well do in the state – especially state pension plans – unless appropriate measures are enacted soon.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and others coming out against Right to Work in the Land of Lincoln, would be wise to reconsider their position.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock
This article appeared on Illinois Policy Institute on February 6, under the same title "Missing the Boat on Right-to-Work".
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Mike "Mish" Shedlock