Surrounded by Illinois union representatives at the state capitol in April, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the Collective Bargaining Freedom Act banning local jurisdictions from creating their own right-to-work zones.  

An IBEW member’s bill to ban cities and counties in Illinois from passing local right-to-work ordinances has become law, two years after the state’s previous governor vetoed the legislation.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has been building a strong pro-worker track record since taking office in January, tours Decatur, Ill., Local 146's training center with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, right. At left is Local 146 Training Director Jason Drake.

Championed by fourth-term state Rep. Marty Moylan, a retired business representative for Chicago Local 134, the bill fell just one House vote short of overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto in 2017.

Voters ousted the virulently anti-union Rauner last November and bolstered what were already worker-friendly majorities in the House and Senate to veto-proof supermajorities. The right-to-work bill, called the Collective Bargaining Freedom Act, passed overwhelmingly in both chambers with bipartisan support.

“From the start, right-to-work was an idea cooked up to lower wages, slash benefits and hurt our working families,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in signing the bill April 12. “Right-to-work has always meant, ‘right to work for less money,’ and it’s wrong for Illinois.”

A similar bill became law this spring in New Mexico, where voters also elected a new pro-worker governor and strengthened Democratic majorities in the Statehouse

Since late 2017, pressure campaigns bankrolled by out-of-state billionaires hostile to unions led nearly a dozen jurisdictions in New Mexico to enact right-to-work. The state law invalidates those ordinances and bans cities and counties from passing new ones.

In Illinois, Moylan and other legislators began fighting local right-to-work ordinances after Lincolnshire in suburban Chicago passed one in 2015.

A federal district court struck down the ordinance in 2017, a decision upheld last September by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The new state law, grounded in lower court rulings, should derail the village’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Pritzker said.

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

Pritzker made working people central to his campaign with visits like this one to Rockford, Ill., Local 364's training center last April.

State Sen. Ram Villivalam, a freshman Democrat who sponsored the bill 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 as we declare once and for all that right-to-work has no place in the state of Illinois,” he said at the signing ceremony.

The Collective Bargaining Freedom Act is on a growing list of gains for working people in Illinois since Pritzker took office in January. They include executive orders restoring project labor agreements and fighting wage theft, action to enforce prevailing wage, and a new law that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, benefitting more than a million workers.

“Elections have real-life consequences that can either harm working Americans or help them,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “Illinois is a powerful illustration of how much can change for the better when the 99 percent is at least as well represented in government as the 1 percent.”

Pritzker gave special recognition to Stephenson and other labor leaders who hail from Illinois when he spoke earlier this month to the 2019 legislative conference for North America’s Building Trades Unions.

Saying his predecessor, Rauner, had been “the most anti-union governor in the nation,” Pritzker drew the sharpest possible contrast.

“I want to be clear,” he said. “When it comes to fighting for Illinois workers, we are just getting started.”