Illinois union coalition battles Rauner fair share fee ban in state courts

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (PAI) – A coalition of 26 unions, led by AFSCME District Council 31, has banded together to battle Illinois GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s order eliminating state worker unions’ rights to collect even “fair share” fees from so-called “free riders.”

In a lawsuit filed in early March in St. Clair County Court in Belleville, just outside St. Louis, the union coalition said Rauner’s order not only violates the state constitution but a 31-year-old state “fair share fee” law as well.

Rauner responded by denouncing “corrupt union bosses” and asking the U.S. District Court in Chicago to rule for his order. The union coalition is fighting that, too. Rauner also ordered his state comptroller to put the fair share fees – $3.75 million yearly – into an escrow account. The comptroller refused, citing a legal opinion from the state attorney general, but Rauner ordered executive branch agencies to withhold the money anyway.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court majority ruled that Illinois home health care workers and personal care workers – some of whom AFSCME represented – are not state employees and thus did not have to even send in fair share fees to the unions, AFSCME and the Service Employees, that represent them on the job.

The anti-worker National Right to Work Committee rounded up the dissenting workers in that case and financed it. The justices decided it on 1st Amendment free-speech grounds.

In that ruling, Justice Samuel Alito hinted that he would look favorably on a case tossing out fair share fees for all public workers, not just the “hybrid” workers, half-public, half-private, in the home health care and personal care fields.

Since he won election, Rauner extended the ban on union fee collection to all state “fair share” workers who are represented by the unions and using their services, but who are not members. The unions represent some 40,000 state workers, including the 6,300 free riders. The suit says Rauner is purposefully attempting to weaken the unions.

“Rauner has usurped the constitutional power of the legislative branch in promulgating an executive order that effectively repeals” the 1983 law, the suit says. “The executive power is the power to faithfully execute the laws enacted through the legislative process, not to refuse to implement” them.

Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said Rauner intends to hurt “the men and women who do the real work of state government…first responders, nurses, caregivers, and corrections officers.

“They plow the snow, protect children, care for veterans and do many other tough, essential jobs that benefit all Illinois residents. Gov. Rauner’s political obsession with stropping their rights and driving down their wages demeans their service, hurts the middle class and is blatantly illegal.”                                  

Besides AFSCME, SEIU and the state federation, unions suing the governor include the Teamsters, the Illinois Nurses Association, the Laborers, the Bakery Confectionery Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, the Operating Engineers, the Machinists, the Bricklayers, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Carpenters, the Electrical Workers, UFCW, the Painters, the Plumbers and Allied Trades, and two police associations.

The St. Louis Labor Tribune and The Labor Paper, of Peoria, Ill., contributed material for this story.

Photo: AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.