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Point/Counter-Point: Unions in Illinois

06/18/2015 02:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2016

Michael Lucci, director of jobs and growth at the Illinois Policy Institute and Frank Manzo, the policy director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute wrote about their thoughts on unions, workers, manufacturing and construction in Illinois at Reboot Illinois. Check out their differing opinions in this point-counterpoint.

From Lucci:

Illinois' Prevailing Wage Act mandates high wages for construction workers on projects that receive public funding. All Illinoisans have to pay for these wages with property-tax dollars - that includes Illinois' beleaguered manufacturing companies, as well as Illinois' nearly 600,000 manufacturing workers, of which there are fewer and fewer every month.

The sad irony of this subsidy for construction workers is that the prevailing-wage law makes Illinois' construction workers the best paid in the entire nation, while Illinois' manufacturing workers are the worst paid in the entire region. Illinois is the only state where the average wage for construction workers is over $60,000, compared with the national average of $46,800, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Manufacturing workers in Illinois end up with the short end of the stick. Illinois' manufacturing workers rank last in the Midwest for average wages. Although the Midwest as a whole pays well for manufacturing work compared with the rest of the country, Illinois workers still make less than the national average wage. Ten states in the Midwest pay above the national average for manufacturing work.

Read the rest of Lucci's thoughts at Reboot Illinois.

From Manzo:

Recently released data illustrates the strongly positive relationship between unionization and productivity in the construction industry. Across the country, a 1 percentage-point increase in a state's construction unionization rate is found to boost worker productivity by $0.805 per hour per worker.

During the period of analysis, Illinois had the highest construction industry unionization, at 38.2 percent compared to the national average of 13.2 percent. However, blue-collar construction workers in Illinois generated $87.72 per hour worked to the state's economy, the 5th-highest productivity in the nation. This $87.72 per hour is significantly higher than the national average of $75.15 per hour (+16.7 percent). Furthermore, Illinois construction workers' productivity also compares favorably to their counterparts in neighboring states:

  • Wisconsin:78.67 per hour
  • Indiana:75.92 per hour
  • Kentucky:72.49 per hour
  • Iowa:71.17 per hour
  • Missouri:71.14 per hour

The linear relationship between unionization and worker productivity indicates that, if the private construction industry unionization rate were to increase from 38.2 percent to 48.2 percent (+10 percentage points), worker productivity would be increased from $87.72 per hour per worker to $95.77 per hour per worker (+$8.05 per hour). This equates to an additional $2.25 billion in economic output that would be produced over the 279.1 million hours worked by construction workers across Illinois. The added productivity is because unionized construction workers are better trained and less likely to suffer workplace injuries on average.

Read the rest of Manzo's thoughts at Reboot Illinois.

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