FILE - Dirksen Federal Building, Chicago

The Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Courthouse in downtown Chicago, Illinois. (Ken Lund | Flickr via Creative Commons)

The case over whether local governments in Illinois can create their own right-to-work zones was heard in an appellate court Tuesday in Chicago.

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals took up the village of Lincolnshire’s appeal to a 2017 ruling striking down the village's ordinance creating a right-to work zone within its borders.

Right-to-work laws allow a worker to be employed in a union shop without joining the representing union or paying them fair-share fees.

The suit was brought by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and 399, the Chicagoland Regional Council of Carpenters and the Laborers District Council of Chicago and Vicinity shortly after the village passed its ordinance in 2015.

Diane Wood, chief judge of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, led the questioning. The Bill Clinton-appointed judge peppered Jacob Huebert, director of litigation for the Liberty Justice Center, with questions about how a local government could be allowed a power traditionally used by a state. The Liberty Justice Center is a nonprofit law firm that took on Lincolnshire’s case free of charge.

She questioned whether allowing Illinois’ 7,000 units of government to all have the right to enact different regulations would create “legal uncertainty.”

At one point in the questioning, Wood asked James Coppess, a lawyer for the unions, about whether the state of Illinois could enact right-to-work legislation for just “south of I-80?” Coppess seemed to waiver on the answer. 

Huebert asserted in his rebuttal that the General Assembly could.

Circuit Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled with the unions in January 2017, saying the National Labor Relations Act doesn’t apply to municipalities, only states and territories.

Currently, there are 28 states that have right-to-work laws. Illinois is not one of them.

Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.