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State Employees Plan Appeal Of Dismissed High-Stakes Union Fees Case

Gavel on desk

State workers suing to put an end to mandatory union dues will appeal a federal judge's order dismissing their case.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman tossed out the lawsuit initiated by Gov. Bruce Rauner; the opposite outcome could have led to the defunding of public unions.

Government-employee unions say Rauner, a Republican, is bent on destroying them. They say this lawsuit is an example.

The governor sued to do away with Illinois' requirement that state employees pay what are called "fair share” fees.

Union members pay higher dues; workers who don't want to join must nonetheless pay a smaller fee, as they still benefit from the contracts unions negotiate. The fee is supposed to cover the unions' costs of collective bargaining on those workers' behalf.

Rauner was actually removed from the case, but several state workers protesting these fees pressed on.

"The First Amendment guarantees a right to freedom of association. Which includes the right to not associate with a group if you don’t want to. And you shouldn't be forced to give up that right just because you want to work for government," the employees' attorney, Jacob Huebert, said. "And also we object to this idea that workers aren't paying for political activities when they pay these so-called fair share fees. Because in fact, a public sector union always engages in political activity. When it bargains on workers' behalf it's engaging in political speech by telling the state what it thinks it should spend on programs, and how it thinks it should operate programs and you have a very fundamental first amendment right not to be forced to pay for political speech you disagree with.

Huebert is the lead lawyer with the Liberty Justice Center, which is connected to the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative organization that has received donations from Rauner.

Huebert says he wasn't surprised by Gettleman's decision, given the U.S. Supreme Court's split decision earlier this year in a similar case from California, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Conservative organizations had been optimistic that case would overturn the longstanding precedent established by a case known as "Abood" which upheld fair share fees.

Instead, Justice Antonin Scalia's sudden death made for a divided court, which means the Abood ruling remains.

Huebert is hopeful the nation's high court will revisit the issue in the future.

"So this case will now move on up and it's possible that eventually the Supreme Court could consider this case," he said Friday. That could help determine the future of labor.

None of the unions that are part of this suit had a comment on the latest action. Nor did Illinois' Attorney General; Democrat Lisa Madigan had previously found that Rauner was out of bounds to issue an executive order prohibiting the state to collect the fair share fees. The order never took effect after Republican Comptroller (and Rauner appointee) Leslie Munger refused to comply.

Without the mandatory fees, it's expected that union membership will decline.

The case has political overtones: A diminishment of labors' political power would hurt Democrats, who are locked in a battle with Rauner and Republicans that has left Illinois without a complete budget.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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