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Battle Over Illinois Unions Goes National

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is now the target of out-of-state labor and left-leaning groups for his executive order making union dues optional for some government workers.

Illinois labor groups were quick to condemn Rauner for his executive order, but now the fight has spilled into the national spectrum, as groups like the union-backed Keep Ohio’s Heritage have begun mounting a defensive against the executive order.

Their contention is that the policy will harm workers by allowing business owners to lower pay, reduce worker benefits and ignore worker rights. The group is an associate of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18 which represents workers in Ohio.

“We’re watching what’s happening in Kentucky and now Illinois,” Pat Sink, Local 18’s business manager, said in a statement.

“We need to stay vigilant because these anti-union forces will stop at nothing to destroy unions and the protections for workers,” Sink argued. “It’s important that we stop this type of legislative overreach.”

“These types of laws can have long-lasting implications and passing them, even at the local level, can have a crippling effect on the middle class citizens of Illinois and Kentucky,” Sink added.

Some experts however contest the lower pay claim as being misleading for not taking into account other economic factors.

James Sherk, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, argues that when factors like location and cost of living are considered, workers in states that don’t require mandatory union dues make the same amount, if not slightly more, than workers in states with mandatory union dues.

The Local 73 chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) also challenged the governor on his executive order. Local 73 represents service workers in Illinois and parts of Indiana.

“Gov. Rauner’s order is a clear violation of several collective bargaining agreements that currently exist,” Local 73 said in a press release. “This illegal action will be challenged in court in the upcoming days and should be overturned.”

“Eliminating fair share rights for state workers has no impact on the state’s budget whatsoever and does not save the state a dime: it is a clear attempt to weaken unions and their collective voice,” their press release added.

Robert Creamer, of the Democrat advocacy group Democracy Partners, argues Rauner is just trying to attack the middle class.

“Now that he’s in office, his first moves have confirmed that he is the poster boy for the War on the Middle Class,” Creamer writes in an opinion piece for the Huffington Post, “Rauner is a hybrid of the worst traits of Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.”

Creamer claims Rauner is advocating for a lower minimum wage and reduced union power as a means of attacking middle class workers. However, some experts argue both factors can actually hurt middle class workers. In a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), researchers found that the 40 percent federal minimum wage increases between 2007 and 2009 reduced employment and income growth for low-skilled and younger workers.

Additionally, as Sherk argues, giving workers a choice of whether to join a union, such as what Rauner did for government unions, can actually strengthen them by motivating union leaders to provide better services so members are more likely to stay.

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