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Season 6 - Episode 2
Shifting power back to workers

John Tillman is CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute, an independent organization generating public policy solutions aimed at promoting personal freedom and prosperity in Illinois. He advocates on behalf of the powerless against powerful special interests, and his leadership has been instrumental in making the Institute a leading voice on criminal justice reform, pension reform, budget and tax policies, and issues concerning jobs and growth. In 2011, John won the State Policy Network’s prestigious Roe Award.


Public sector unions are a force to be reckoned with in Illinois. As John Tillman describes it in this thought-provoking interview, they are the largest funder of elections in that state, and they have a great deal of political influence. Unfortunately, there is little objective reporting about the harm this causes.

The level of public sector pension benefits is a real problem, for instance. “Everybody wants to pay our public service personnel well, but we can’t pay them so well that we are really turning public sector workers into millionaire retirees on the backs of the working class and poor.” A teacher working in Illinois outside of Chicago, who over the course of a 30-year career will contribute $133,000 to their retirement, can expect to get back $2.5 million. That, as Tillman says, is a Ponzi scheme, and it siphons away money the government could use to provide services.

The case of Janus v. AFSCME overturned a 41-year-old precedent on behalf of five million workers in 22 states who had to pay union dues even if they opted out of their union. Since those dues are largely used for political lobbying for causes a member might disagree with, this was actually a case of compelled speech. While some unions have responded constructively to the ruling, most are fighting tooth and nail to prevent workers from leaving, says Tillman. “It would be sort of like if you decided you didn’t want to buy your coffee at Starbucks anymore and you wanted to go across the street to Dunkin’ Donuts, and they would lock the door and not let you out.”

Though the battle for personal freedom and prosperity in Illinois is a challenging one, John Tillman says he feels privileged to be doing the work he does and living what he calls “a life of consequence,” working on issues that change people’s lives for the better.

Links of interest

John Tillman / Illinois Policy Institute