Rauner, unions to keep fighting over fees after court ruling

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday called a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing labor unions to collect fees from non-members "tragic" and said he'll keep working to ban the practice in Illinois and elsewhere.

"For anyone who wants to join a union and pay the dues, they should do it, that's terrific. But if they don't want to, they shouldn't be forced," the Republican governor said during an unrelated stop in LeRoy.

Labor leaders vowed to keep up their fight as well, saying Rauner "has made destroying unions and suppressing wages his top priority."

"Right-wing groups and the politicians they control will continue attempting to keep workers from having a voice at work," said Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan. "Their clear political motive is to cripple the rights of working people."

Justices said Tuesday they were divided 4-4 in a California case over whether public workers represented by a union can be required to pay "fair share" fees, leaving in place a lower court's ruling that the fees may be collected. The court is operating with eight members following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who had been expected to rule against the unions.

It was a big win for organized labor, which says the money covers costs such as collective bargaining that all workers benefit from, whether or not they join the union.

In Illinois, the fees generate an estimated $3.7 million annually for public-employee unions.

Rauner, a former businessman, has tried to weaken union influence since he took office last year.

He issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies from taking the fees from non-members' paychecks, but relented after unions sued and a judge ordered the fees to be collected and paid to the unions.

Rauner and three state employees who opted not to join their union but must pay the fees also filed a lawsuit, arguing the fees are unconstitutional because they violate public workers' free speech rights.

Mark Janus went to work for the State of Illinois after his family's business closed. He said he was "appalled" at waste and inefficiency he blames on union rules, such as pay raises given for seniority instead of for good work.

While Janus wasn't forced to join the AFSCME union, state law has so far required him to pay the union nearly $5,000 for representation he doesn't want.

“We have to continue to be represented by a union that does not support my points of view,” Janus said.

And that, says his lawyer, violates the First Amendment constitutional rights of Janus and two other Illinois state workers who joined his lawsuit.

“These non-union employees are required to give money to the union and then the union uses that money for political speech,” said Jeffrey Schwab of the Liberty Justice Center.

Governor Rauner said the following about the Supreme Court deadlock: "I think it was a tragic decision... Justice Scalia would have supported freedom of speech and freedom of political affiliation and that decision would have gone the other way, but the court was split 4-4 and therefore upheld the lower court."

The AFSCME union strongly disagrees, noting that wealthy conservatives are paying Janus' legal bills in the pending Illinois case.

“Right wing advocacy groups, foundations, lobbying groups -- they are trying to use the courts as a vehicle for their political attacks on the rights of working people,” said Anders Lindall of AFSCME Union.

A judge ruled the case could proceed with the workers as plaintiffs, though attorneys on all sides agreed to put the lawsuit on hold pending the outcome of the California case.

Rauner said Tuesday he expects the Illinois lawsuit to eventually reach the Supreme Court, where it could have an impact beyond the state should there be nine justices seated who agree to consider it.

The next court date is set for July 7 in Chicago, though that hearing could be moved up following Tuesday's Supreme Court action.