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Illinois Supreme Court Strikes Down Broad Interpretation of Antitrust Law Protecting Workers’ Wages

 |  January 21, 2024

The Illinois Supreme Court has invalidated an expansive interpretation of state antitrust law, preventing employers from potentially colluding to manipulate worker wages. The decision, delivered on Friday, addresses concerns that an exemption to the Illinois Antitrust Act was being exploited, allowing employers to engage in anti-competitive practices, reported Bloomberg.

The exemption in question, which originally aimed to shield legitimate labor union activities, had become a point of contention as employers, particularly temporary staffing agencies, allegedly utilized it to stifle competition for employees. Per Bloomberg, the court’s decision emphasizes that the exemption only covers activities arising from the bargaining process with collective bargaining representatives.

According to the court’s opinion, “Multiemployer agreements concerning wages they will pay their employees and whether they will hire each other’s employees may violate the Illinois Antitrust Act unless the agreement arises as part of the bargaining process and ‘the affected employees, through their collective bargaining representatives, have sought to bargain with the multiemployer unit.’”

The case brought before the court involved the Illinois state taking Elite Staffing Inc., Metro Staffing Inc., and Midway Staffing Inc. to court. The state argued that these staffing agencies had violated the Illinois Antitrust Act through their implementation of no-poach and wage-fixing agreements, practices allegedly aimed at suppressing competition among staffing agencies.

The staffing agencies, in their defense, cited an exemption to the law covering labor performed by employees, asserting that it permitted them to bypass antitrust concerns. However, the court rejected this broad interpretation, emphasizing that such an approach would undermine the fundamental purpose of the antitrust laws.

The court’s opinion stated, “No source concerning the purpose of antitrust laws suggests that the legislature meant to leave competing employers free to collude with each other to reduce the wages they pay to their employees or to collude to prevent workers from switching to better jobs.”

This ruling reinforces the commitment to protecting fair competition and workers’ rights in the state of Illinois. It sets a precedent that challenges any attempts by employers to exploit legal loopholes for the purpose of suppressing wages or limiting employee mobility. As the legal landscape around antitrust and labor laws continues to evolve, this decision is likely to have far-reaching implications for similar cases across the state and potentially beyond.

Source: Bloomberg