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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Illinois Governor Declares War on Unions

CHICAGO (CN) - After issuing an executive order declaring "forced" union dues in Illinois unconstitutional, Gov. Bruce Rauner asked a federal judge to rule in his favor.

Rauner filed the lawsuit Monday against the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, AFL-CIO, and more than a dozen other other labor unions.

"The governor brings this action to resolve a controversy between his office and the various public sector labor unions named as defendants in this case regarding the legality of the Governor's Executive Order 15-13," the complaint begins.

Rauner issued an executive order the same day, his first major decision as governor, to block public employee unions from collecting "fair share" fees. Non-union workers pay these fees in lieu of union dues to cover the cost of negotiating a contract for their benefit, as public-employee unions are required to represent all workers in a collective-bargaining unit, regardless of whether they are union members.

Rauner told the Sun-Times on Monday that "forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers. Government union bargaining and government union political activity are inexorably linked. An employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree. That is a clear violation of First Amendment rights - and something that, as governor, I am duty-bound to correct."

Rauner is Illinois' first Republican governor since 1998, and has been critical of public-sector unions, especially given the pension crisis that threatens to bankrupt the state. Illinois has an unfunded pension liability of $111 billion.

Unions represent more than 45,000 Illinois state employees, but Rauner says that they "do not provide an account of how these [fair share] fees are calculated."

The fees range from 79 percent to 100 percent of dues charged to union members, according to the complaint.

Rauner filed this legal action anticipating that the unions would contest his decision in federal court.

Unions will likely argue that the executive action was illegal, and that such decisions belong to the legislature. Illinois' Democrat-controlled Legislature is unlikely to pass such a measure.

The complaint specifically cites pensions as a motivation for Rauner's order.

"A state government employee represented by the Unions who earns an average annual salary of $38,979 over the course of a 26-year state government career contributes approximately $40,539 to the State's pension system, but is entitled to receive $821,588 over a twenty-year retirement, plus retiree health care," Rauner says.

The Illinois Supreme Court struck down former Gov. Pat Quinn's attempt at pension reform last year as unconstitutional, finding that the Illinois Constitution expressly provides that "membership in any pension or retirement system of the State shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

Rauner takes issue with unions expending "dollars collected pursuant to the Fair Share Contact Provisions to lobby or bargain against reductions to their own benefits packages or to shift more significant reductions to other state programs or services."

When that happens, "there is no principled distinction between the unions and the various special interest groups who must expend money on political activities to protect their own favored programs and services," the complaint states.

Asserting that collective bargaining is "inherently political," Rauner says the fair-share fees that support union political activity is a violation of non-union workers' First Amendment.

Rauner asked the court to declare his executive order valid, and the fair-share fess unconstitutional.

He is represented by Special Assistant Attorney General Dennis Murashko.

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