Chicago Suburb Sued Over Ties to Right-to-Work Group

CHICAGO (CN) – A northern Chicago suburb that saw a federal judge strike down its “right-to-work” ordinance faces a new legal challenge from a union member claiming his taxes unlawfully funded a lobbying group pushing for the measure.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Chicago federal court, Dixon O’Brien makes an argument that may be familiar to conservative groups fighting against the use of union dues to pay for political positions that some workers disagree with.

O’Brien, however, is not fighting union membership or dues. He’s a card-carrying member of the International Union of Operating Engineers opposed to right-to-work laws, which prevent unions from charging “fair-share payments” to nonmembers who benefit from collective bargaining.

He alleges that the Lake County village of Lincolnshire used taxpayer money to support the Illinois Municipal League, a lobbying group representing 1,000 Illinois communities, in violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

O’Brien’s union, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, joined him in the lawsuit. Their lawyer Dale Pierson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

According to O’Brien, Lincolnshire was the only local Illinois government to adopt a right-to-work ordinance that allows workers in companies with active unions to opt out of joining and paying dues.

O’Brien says the village approved the local law at the urging of the Illinois Municipal League. The key to his claims rests in his assertion that the village pays dues to the group using taxpayer money. Contributions are calculated based on each local community’s population, according to O’Brien.

“As such, Lincolnshire has violated O’Brien’s First Amendment rights by forcing him to support speech with which he disagrees,” the six-page filing states.

In March 2015, Illinois Municipal League urged local communities to adopt right-to-work rules as part of a broader effort by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who is a longstanding supporter of local governments’ right to create labor regulations and is at loggerheads with the state’s public-sector unions.

Last year, a federal judge in Chicago struck down Lincolnshire’s ordinance, ruling that only the state can create laws governing union membership. The village has appealed the decision.

In his complaint, O’Brien claims he sent a letter to Lincolnshire Mayor Elizabeth Brandt in January asking for a partial tax refund based on money used to fund Illinois Municipal League dues. He says that Brandt did not respond but that he expects village officials to reject his claim.

The lawsuit seizes on language in a legal brief to the U.S. Supreme Court by the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It is another Illinois case that could deal a devastating blow to public unions if the nation’s high court rules that union membership and dues are not required.

The National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation said in its brief that union dues used for political purposes have the “same grievous First Amendment injury as would the government forcing individuals to support a mandatory lobbyist or political advocacy group.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Janus on Monday.

In September, Governor Rauner vetoed a bill sent to his office by Democrats which would have barred local municipalities from adopting right-to-work-measures.

O’Brien seeks a court order that prevents the city from using taxpayer money for Illinois Municipal League contributions, and a ruling that its financial support for the group violates his free-speech rights.

Lincolnshire village manager Brad Burke said the village had not been served with the lawsuit and therefore could not immediately comment. Arguments in the village’s appeal are expected in March, he said.

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