A specter is haunting Illinois — the specter of government unions.
State taxpayers bear the burden of more than $200 billion in unfunded government retirement costs. Yet unions resist any and all changes, and shouted down Gov. Pat Quinn at the Illinois State Fair for merely entertaining the thought of reform.
With whatever means they have at their disposal, government employee unions have become a reliable obstacle to positive, necessary and long overdue changes that will give taxpayers relief from the burden of unaffordable employee benefits, improve failing schools and make core government services more efficient.
It is high time the grip government union bosses have over taxpayers and union members be exposed publicly, starting with how Illinois labor law has allowed Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union and other government union officials leverage over taxpayers:
•Union bosses have exclusive representation over workers.
•Workers are forced into membership whether they want it or not.
•Union bosses automatically confiscate money from worker paychecks to spend as they see fit.
•Once organized, unions and worker membership are close to permanent.
All of this has allowed government unions to cause or aggravate most of the fiscal and economic problems that Illinois faces, hurting our children, the poor and taxpayers alike.
Compensation for government workers is climbing at a time when a majority of the state's residents are facing declining wages and job loss. Since the 2011 tax hike, Illinois' unemployment growth is worst in the nation.
As bad as all of this is, rank and file government union workers, especially those near or already in retirement, are also at grave risk. Union bosses have not told workers the truth about today's fiscal meltdown. Without reforms, according to Teachers' Retirement System Executive Director Dick Ingram and others, those retirement funds will run dry. Who will be the victims then? Rank and file union workers who trusted their union leaders. They trusted them to negotiate deals that would be fair and financially sustainable. Union bosses have failed to account for how much the state can afford.
Yet it is not hopeless. In the end, rank and file union members and average Illinois taxpayers have a common interest and a common power. Each has the ability to hold union bosses and politicians accountable. Whether you are a taxpayer who is fed up or you are a union worker who wants a steady job and a secure retirement, there is but one path out — unite against those who oppose your best interest.
Labor law reform starts by restoring freedom, and that freedom might be what scares government union bosses most of all.
No more exclusive representation, make unions compete to represent you. No more forced dues, demand the right to choose whether to join. No more automatic dues deductions, you can decide where your money goes. No more permanence, make the union earn your support every day.
Union bosses fear that freedom. The rest of us should embrace it.
Workers should be free. By freeing our workers we can ensure a more prosperous future for all the people of Illinois, government employees and taxpayers alike.
John Tillman is CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market think tank based in Chicago. Paul Kersey is director of labor policy at the Illinois Policy Institute.