Friday, January 6, 2012

Illinois becoming a “champion” in fight against right-to-work concept?

Thinking back to those couple of years in the mid-1990s when the Republican Party had an overwhelming majority in state government and pushed many purely ideological measures into law (many of which ultimately were struck down by the state Supreme Court), I can’t help but wonder why the GOP leaders of that era didn’t make the move for “right-to-work.”

Such laws that are meant to make it next to impossible for labor unions to establish themselves in businesses within their boundaries exist in 22 states (with five southern and southwestern states going so far as to write such ideas into their state constitutions) would have been totally in line with the kinds of things that the Illinois General Assembly did back in the pair of years that Lee Daniels could call himself Illinois House speaker.

BUT THEY DIDN’T do it, and our Legislature these days isn’t about to entertain any such silly concept now.

Which may well be why our officials in Illinois are devoting significant amounts of attention to Indiana, where the state Legislature’s Republican leadership has gotten the bite to want to impose right-to-work.

The Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper is reporting how the Chicago Federation of Labor, along with Chicago-area locals of the International Union of Operating Engineers, are having their people staff telephone banks.

They’re making the kinds of calls to people in Indiana to try to make them realize just how ridiculous right-to-work is. In short, Illinois-based organized labor officials are pitching in for the effort to kill off the “right-to-work” movement that may well become this year’s ugly issue in Indiana politics.

REMEMBER LAST YEAR when Democratic legislators thwarted GOP partisan efforts in the Legislature by hiding out in Urbana, Ill.?

Reading the reports about how those Democrats are denying the Legislature their presence in recent days makes me wonder if they’re going to be making a return trip to our state in coming months.

Now I’m aware that some people reading this commentary are probably getting seriously P’Oed at my rhetoric. Not that I’m overly concerned. I get equally offended at theirs, and this simply is one of those issues where we’re going to disagree.

But I truly am pleased to see that Illinois people would be willing to pitch in on this particular issue – even though I’m sure some ideologues are going to go out of their way to characterize our labor officials as meddlers, of sorts. Butting in on an issue that’s none of their business.

BECAUSE NO ONE is threatening to impose right-to-work in Illinois. If they tried, they’d likely be laughed at. And I write that sentence knowing full well that the most recent Republican nominee for governor (state Sen. William Brady, R-Bloomington) tossed out his own rhetoric during his 2010 campaign hinting he wouldn’t object if someone tried to bring “right-to-work” to Illinois.

Now what gets me this worked up over this issue?

Primarily, it is one where the ideological rhetoric always used to defend right-to-work strikes me as being such a distortion of the truth.

Supporters of such laws that make it illegal to tell someone they must join a labor union in order to work at a place whose workers are represented by that union claim that it is denying employment to people.

WHEN ALL IT really does is makes it completely legal for employers to use tactics meant to scare people out of thinking of joining a labor union. If anyone is acting in a way meant to interfere with the will of a worker, I’d say it is the ones who push for right-to-work.

Personally, the best-paying jobs I have ever had were the ones where organized labor was involved (I’m a former member of the American Newspaper Guild, local 222). They also were the only ones that, upon laying me off, gave me anything resembling advance warning and something resembling a severance package.

The people who think that is a problem are likely the ones who, deep down, have little respect for the employee – without whom the employers wouldn’t have a product to sell or service to provide.

Insofar as Indiana this year, I’m not about to predict how their “right-to-work” fight is going to be resolved. I don’t know enough about the Legislature dynamic in Indianapolis to make anything other than a pointless prediction.

I CAN ONLY hope that our Illinois people will have some significant influence in determining the outcome.

Because I can’t help but notice that while most of the “right-to-work” states are in the Deep South and the Southwestern U.S., they do stretch as far north as Iowa.

It would be a real shame if Illinois got surrounded on both sides (to the east and to the northwest) by “right-to-work” states. That may be the real motivation for Illinois labor officials to get into this fight.

Then again, having both of those states as “right-to-work” likely would go a long way toward reinforcing the concept of Illinois as a beacon of sanity in this part of the country when it comes to certain social issues.


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