Op-Ed: Two reforms needed to grow Illinois’ manufacturing sector

Steve Rauschenberger

By TMA President Steve Rauschenberger –

Nearly everyone is in favor of good jobs that pay good wages. If Illinois wants to grow the opportunities for solid middle-class jobs, we need to work to get our house in order. Jobs in manufacturing pay on average 30 percent more than retail jobs, usually provide substantial opportunities for employee advancement, and most training is provided at no cost to the worker; in short, manufacturing jobs are a key to providing good jobs that pay good wages.

Two problems in Illinois today pose barriers to growing manufacturing jobs and are frequently the cause of companies leaving the state or choosing a different state to expand or relocate.

A) The need for sensible Tort Reform in Illinois.

B) Modernizing Illinois’ Worker’s Compensation law.

Tort Reform
It seems like you can hardly get to the second page of your local newspaper before you come across another story about a manufacturer or employer being sued for one reason or another. Have you noticed that the warning stickers on a ladder at the hardware store nearly cover the entire ladder? From spilled coffee, to slips and falls, these stories are so common most people brush them off without even thinking about the costs associated with each new case that gets filed. Illinois has a national reputation as “judicial hellhole” where often meritless lawsuits cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend.

One of the key characteristics of a healthy manufacturing industry is its constant investment in Research and Development, skilled job training, and product innovation. Every dollar spent on a company’s legal costs is a dollar not spent on wages, R & D, or employee training. It’s time for us to recognize that and set ourselves toward fixing lawsuit abuse.

So, what problems need to be fixed?

1. Prompt dismissal of lawsuits found without merit. Companies, their employees and owners should not have to wait years to be cleared of meritless charges.

2. Illinois should also discourage the use of class action lawsuits unless there is a clear PUBLIC benefit. In most Illinois class action suits the only winners are the attorneys.

3. And finally, Illinois should adopt a clear standard of causation to avoid lawsuits against companies simply because lawyers believe they have deep pockets.

Workers’ compensation
Another issue crucial to Illinois job creators is workers’ compensation. Manufacturing companies and other employers work incredibly hard to keep workplaces safe. Illinois employers are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance to cover the costs related to any injured worker. The workers’ compensation system needs to be focused on restoring the health of the worker, covering the costs of the employee’s lost wages, and getting that employee back to work. Unfortunately, in Illinois, the system we operate is focused on the lawyers, both the insurance company’s lawyer and the counsel for the injured worker. Settlements and lawsuits are what we produce in Illinois instead of restored workers and safe workplaces.

If we want Illinois to be a good place to raise a family, we need to insist that elected officials address these problems. Career and job opportunities will continue to suffer until we take meaningful action.

Smart, comprehensive legal reforms are necessary to get Illinois job growth back on track. It is time to ask our elected legislators to insist on reform of both Illinois Tort law and the Illinois Worker’s Compensation system. Our families and friends, and future Illinois workers are entitled to our best efforts to make sure Illinois is a place where good jobs paying good wages flourish.

• Steve Rauschenberger is president of the 1,000-member Technology & Manufacturing Association, as well as a former state senator and gubernatorial candidate.