In Rebuke to GOP Predecessor, Illinois Governor Bans Local 'Right-to-Work' Zones

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed into law a bill that bars local governments from establishing so-called right-to-work zones, another rebuke to his Republican predecessor, who blocked similar legislation as he battled with Democratic lawmakers over his pro-business, union-weakening agenda.
by | April 16, 2019 AT 7:08 AM

By Dan Petrella

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed into law a bill that bars local governments from establishing so-called right-to-work zones, another rebuke to his Republican predecessor, who blocked similar legislation as he battled with Democratic lawmakers over his pro-business, union-weakening agenda.

The new law, which was passed with strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate and takes effect immediately, "makes it abundantly clear that we have turned the page here in Illinois," the Democratic governor said during a bill-signing event at the Capitol, where he was joined by legislators and labor leaders.

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner was a major proponent of laws prohibiting employers and labor organizations from signing contracts that require workers to join unions or pay dues. In 2017, Rauner vetoed a previous version of the bill banning local governments from creating such laws, and the House fell one vote short of overriding him. This time, the measure passed the House on a 101-8 vote and was approved unanimously in the Senate.

"From the start, right-to-work was an idea cooked up to lower wages, slash benefits and hurt our working families," Pritzker said. " 'Right-to-work' has always meant, 'right to work for less money,' and it's wrong for Illinois."

State lawmakers moved to ban local right-to-work laws after north suburban Lincolnshire passed one in 2015. The ordinance was overturned by a federal court, which ruled that federal law prohibits such local rules, but the village has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Pritzker said the new state law codifies rulings by lower federal courts.

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

Lincolnshire Village Manager Brad Burke did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.

State Sen. Ram Villivalam, a freshman Democrat from Chicago who sponsored the measure in the Senate, said it "makes it clear that the regulation of collective bargaining is the responsibility of state government."

"It is an honor to stand here ... today as we declare once and for all that right-to-work has no place in the state of Illinois," Villivalam said.

The collective bargaining measure was the second time this week Pritzker signed a measure that had been vetoed by Rauner. On Sunday, the new governor signed a bill raising the legal age for purchasing cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 statewide, effective July 1.

In his first weeks in office, Pritzker signed a bill raising the statewide minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. Rauner vetoed a $15 minimum wage bill in 2017.

During his campaign, Pritzker promised "he would want to be a voice for working families if elected," said Jeffrey Collier, a union representative with the Edwardsville office of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881.

Since taking office, Pritzker has made good on that promise, Collier said at the bill signing.

"In less than 100 days as governor, he has already done more than any other governor I've ever known to back up his word to support working families," Collier said.

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