In February 2015, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an executive order directing state agencies to stop deducting “fair share” union fees from the paychecks of state workers who have said they don’t want to join a union. At the same time, Rauner also filed a lawsuit asking the federal courts to declare that the First Amendment required him to issue that order to protect workers’ rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association.
The federal district court in Chicago dismissed Rauner from the lawsuit because, the court ruled, Rauner did not have standing to bring it because he had never been forced to pay union fees himself.
Fortunately, the Liberty Justice Center was able to intervene in the case on behalf of three state workers who do have standing because they have been forced to pay money to unions for years just to keep their jobs, and the court ruled that the case could go forward with those workers as plaintiffs.
The workers are asking the courts to declare that Illinois’ laws forcing state workers to pay union fees violate their First Amendment rights of free speech and free association; to order the state to stop taking their money and giving it to unions they don’t wish to support; and to order the unions to return the fees they’ve been forced to pay.
The issue in this case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 2015 agreed to hear a similar case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which California public school teachers are challenging forced union dues as a violation of their First Amendment rights.
There are strong reasons to believe that the teachers who brought the Friedrichs case — and therefore the Illinois state workers the Liberty Justice Center represents — will prevail. In June 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that Illinois violated the First Amendment rights of home health workers when it forced them to pay union fees as a condition of receiving state subsidies. In that decision, the court wrote that a 1977 decision that allowed states to make employees pay union fees, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, was “questionable,” suggesting the court may be ready to overturn that decision and declare that forcing government workers to pay union fees is unconstitutional.
Success before the Supreme Court would mean that all government workers – not just in Illinois, but across the country – would have the freedom to choose whether to give their money to a union.