Illinois lawmakers send message to new GOP governor by rejecting anti-union proposal
Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (Metropolitan Planning Council/Flickr)

Illinois Democratic lawmakers rejected their own right-to-work bill on Thursday in a symbolic vote meant to send a message to Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who says he wants union membership to be voluntary.

Powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan sponsored the designed-to-fail bill, which House Republican Leader Jim Durkin decried as a "sham" aimed at undermining Rauner's call for bipartisan solutions to Illinois' deep financial crisis.

The count was along party lines in the Democratic-majority House with 72 "no" votes, zero "yes" votes and 37 members voting "present."

The proposal to allow cities and counties in Illinois to establish themselves as right-to-work zones was based on language in Rauner's "turnaround agenda," which he has been pushing since he took office in January.

Madigan has said he wanted the vote to force the governor's office to file a bill that would spell out a more clear proposal on an issue Rauner has been pushing, according to local media. Republicans have said they are working on the issue in a bipartisan group.

Chicago already has pre-empted Rauner, passing a resolution last week against right-to-work in the third biggest U.S. city.

Twenty-five states have such laws, which Republican-controlled legislatures have supported, saying they attract business and encourage economic growth.

Critics say they undermine unions - by allowing workers to opt out of membership and out of paying dues - and will lead to a deterioration in wages and compensation.

Rauner, a wealthy businessman serving in public office for the first time, has been touring the state to sell his so-called turnaround agenda, aimed at curing a massive financial crisis. He argues that making union membership optional would attract investment to the state, boosting jobs and revenue. Illinois has the worst credit rating of any U.S. state, and Moody's credit rating agency just cut its evaluation of Chicago's debt to "junk" status, which will make it hard for the city to raise funds.

Chicago, home to one out of five Illinois residents and a heavily unionized workforce, last week rejected the idea of establishing a right-to-work zone.

When Rauner spoke before the Chicago City council last week, the first time a sitting governor of Illinois has ever addressed Chicago aldermen, the council greeted him by adopting a resolution rejecting right-to-work rules.