Illinois governor sues to protect state workers from 'fair share' union dues
by Laura Edghill
Posted 2/24/15, 02:00 pm
February weather across the Midwest may be frigid, but the current stand-off between Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state’s public sector unions has reached the boiling point.
At stake is the newly elected governor’s proposal to end a requirement that Illinois state workers pay union dues regardless of whether or not they wish to join the union. Rauner argues it is past time to end decades of union political leverage and corruption. In his recent State of the State speech, Rauner also named the unions as unwelcome contributors to the state’s budget problems.
To achieve this goal, Rauner filed a federal lawsuit last week seeking to have “fair share” dues declared unconstitutional. Two dozen public-employee unions, including teachers, government employees, and healthcare workers, are named as defendants.
Currently, public workers can decline union membership, but are still obligated to pay “fair share” dues. Those dues are intended to cover the cost of collective bargaining, handling of grievances, and other non-political activities on behalf of all the workers. But Rauner argues the unions’ actions are inherently political, and that forcing non-members to fund any union activities is a violation of their First Amendment rights. A successful lawsuit would relieve the non-unionized workers of the burden of paying “fair share” dues.
The unions reacted swiftly to the suit, accusing Rauner of launching a misleading attack on working people.
“We’re going to have to defend ourselves,” said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, one of the unions named in the suit. He expects a lengthy and expensive legal battle over the roughly $3.75 million in dues that are affected by the case.
Rauner further stoked the fire by issuing an executive order last week that forces the dues in question into escrow while the case moves through the legal system. If the lawsuit is successful, the money will be returned to the workers, rather than landing in the unions’ bank accounts.
The unions’ strong response comes as no surprise in a climate where public opinion is trending in support of workers’ freedoms. Twenty-four states currently have right-to-work legislation on the books, freeing workers from compulsory union membership. Wisconsin is embroiled in hearings for its own right-to-work legislation, and numerous other states have taken executive and legislative steps in recent years to expand freedom and choice for workers.
In addition to legislative changes, unions also are feeling the pinch of dwindling membership for other reasons, including a wave of retiring baby boomers, industry innovations, and the migration of jobs from manufacturing to the knowledge economy.
In its annual survey of workers, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics cited 2014 as the weakest year of union membership since the survey’s inception in 1983.
Despite heated threats of union mobilizations and proposed strikes, Rauner remains resolute in his commitment to expand freedom for workers.
“The structure that is currently in place, inside government, forcing government employees to pay union dues, even if they don’t want to be in a union—that is fundamentally unconstitutional and it is against the American system of freedom of choice,” Rauner told Fox News.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.