Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order Monday to release public employees from unions’ obligatory “fair-share fees”—the dues that union non-members are required to contribute on the principle that they too benefit from union negotiations. The new GOP governor is making his objection on First Amendment grounds, the Chicago Tribune reports:
Illinois statute prohibits those fees from being used to support political activities, but Rauner contended it’s nearly impossible to draw a distinction because public sector unions directly negotiate with the government.“Government union bargaining and government union political activity are inextricably linked,” Rauner said. “As a result, 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 drawing on a Supreme Court case of last year, Harris v. Quinn, in which
[l]awyers argued that the workers, who were designated “public employees” and organized by the Service Employees International Union, were not true state employees and therefore couldn’t be required to pay the union fees.By a 5-4 majority, the justices agreed, and ruled that compelling the home health care workers to pay union fees violated the First Amendment. The justices stopped short of ruling on the larger question of whether any public-sector workers can be compelled to pay the fees.
The Supreme Court may take up the question again this year, in a case brought by California teachers to overturn a similar law requiring them to contribute to unions they haven’t joined and don’t agree with. (For the big picture on public unions, take a look at Daniel DiSalvo’s article “The New Spoils System,” in our upcoming issue.)This is shaping up to be a year of challenges to public union power, but just as importantly, a year in which the spotlight will be on the states. Though the GOP took a victory lap after its Senate sweep, we can expect little more from Congress beyond bickering and temporizing. Not so in the laboratories of democracy; Scott Walker started the year off with a dramatic plan for Wisconsin’s university system, and Rauner seems to be following in his union-riling footsteps. The GOP’s governors are stars to watch rise or fall in 2015.