Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued an executive order continuing a national trend toward letting workers choose whether to pay labor unions.
The executive order forbids government unions from taking mandatory “fair-share” fees from state employees. Rauner also filed a complaint asking a federal court to rule on his assessment that forced government union dues violate the First Amendment.
If the Republican governor’s court case succeeds, it could shield public workers throughout the country from forcibly paying fair-share fees.
Illinois is one of 23 states where some or all government employees can be forced to pay a union as a condition of employment. Illinois is also one of the nation’s most heavily unionized states, with 15.1 percent of all workers belonging to unions.
Nationally, unions take forced dues from more than 250,000 public employees as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision.
Most government workers in Wisconsin and Michigan can choose whether to pay unions under laws passed in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Right-to-work bills that would end forced union dues for public and private-sector workers are under consideration in New Mexico, Missouri, West Virginia and elsewhere.
Rauner’s arguments against public-sector fair-share fees strongly resemble those made by the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case already awaiting consideration before the Supreme Court.
F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at Michigan’s free-market Mackinac Center, told Watchdog in an interview this week that Rauner’s moves reflect a growing sense the Supreme Court may soon abandon Abood.
“This may be adding fuel to the fire of Friedrichs, which could upend public-sector collective bargaining as we know it,” Vernuccio said.
“It seems to make sense that forcing people to pay political organizations against their will is a violation of the First Amendment and should be seen as compelled speech,” he added.
Vernuccio suggested governors in other states could protect public employees from mandatory union dues by following Rauner’s example, especially if the ensuing legal battle plays out in Rauner’s favor.
“It would definitely, if he wins, be a new model that strong Republican governors can use to stop the First Amendment infringement of forced dues for public-sector workers,” Vernuccio said.
“Look at New Mexico, look at Maryland,” he said. “Anywhere there’s a strong, principled Republican governor that can’t get these reforms through the Legislature, they’ll be watching this to see what happens.”
Rauner’s executive order, issued Monday, cited the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Harris v. Quinn.
In Harris v. Quinn, the court ruled Service Employees International Union could not take mandatory fees from home health workers paid through Medicaid. Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion described the Abood precedent allowing forced government union dues as an “anomaly.”
Rauner asserted in his executive order that “the present facts and circumstances of Illinois public sector collective bargaining leave no doubt that the Fair Share Contract Provisions, as permitted by the Illinois Labor Act, violate Illinois state employees’ freedoms of speech and association.”
“Illinois state employee unions are using compelled ‘fair share’ fees to fund inherently political activities to influence the outcome of core public sector issues, such as wages, pensions, and benefits,” Rauner said.
State pension systems in Illinois are underfunded to the tune of more than $130 billion, due in large part to the influence of government union bosses.
Knowing his executive order would prompt a lawsuit by affiliates of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other powerful unions, the Republican governor filed a federal court complaint for declaratory judgment Monday.
Roberta Lynch, AFSCME Council 31 executive director, affirmed Illinois unions will do everything they can to keep workers’ mandatory fair-share fees flowing into their coffers.
“It is crystal clear by this action that the governor’s supposed concern for balancing the state budget is a paper-thin excuse that can’t hide his real agenda: Silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class,” Lynch said in a Monday statement.
“Our union and all organized labor will stand together with those who believe in democracy to overturn Bruce Rauner’s illegal action and restore the integrity of the rule of law,” added Lynch, who was paid $140,834 as an AFSCME Council 31 deputy director in 2013.
Rauner’s federal court complaint noted, “since Abood, the Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged that compelling a state employee to financially support a public sector union seriously impinges upon free speech and association interests protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
“Pursuant to his oath of office under Article XIII, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution, and his duty to execute the laws under Article V, Section 8 of the Illinois Constitution, the Governor cannot condone this unconstitutional coercion of speech,” the complaint added.
Jason Hart is Watchdog.org's Ohio-based national labor reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jasonahart.