SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday ordered state agencies to stop collecting so-called fair share dues from state employees on behalf of public-sector unions.
The governor also announced his office will seek confirmation on the legality of the executive order as quickly as possible from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb and his colleagues at the Chicago law firm of Winston & Strawn are joining the governor's effort at no charge to the state, the governor said.
Rauner has been tough on unions in his many appearances since being sworn in, but the dramatic move Monday left even some like-thinkers surprised.
"This is amazing," said Vincent Vernuccio, director of the labor policy for the Mackinac Center, a Michigan-based free-market think tank.
To date, Illinois has required state employees who do not wish to become full-fledged union members to pay a portion of union dues that can be attributed to collective bargaining.
But the Rauner team believes public-sector unions are inherently political actors and everything they do is political.
The governor says public sector unions bargain with the government for pay and benefits, as well as contribute to and campaign for candidates they believe will further their causes, including pay and benefits.
Forcing people to pay any amount to a group they don't want be part of violates the First Amendment rights of free speech and free association, Rauner contends.
"They call these 'fair-share,'" Rauner said of the dues. "Let me tell you, they are anything but fair." He calls the partial, but mandatory, dues "unfair share."
Rauner said he isn't trying to cripple unions and only is standing up for constitutionally protected rights and the principle of freedom of choice.
"An employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree," Rauner said. "That is a clear violation of First Amendment rights – and something that, as governor, I am duty-bound to correct."
The governor's political opposites and the unions couldn't disagree more.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 President Roberta Lynch issued a statement that said, "Bruce Rauner's scheme to strip the rights of state workers and weaken their unions by executive order is a blatantly illegal abuse of power."
Lynch and other union leaders vowed action and accused Rauner of trying to drive down wages in Illinois and attempting to silence the middle class.
Some Democrats agreed.
"Mostly what he's after is those dues," said Sen. Lou Lang, D-Skokie. "The governor's trying to cut down on donations by labor unions to candidates who might not be very favorable to the governor or the governor's' political party."
"This is very cynical and this is a clear and open attempt to cut into any opposition the governor might have," Lang added.
Rauner said his action will have no impact on state employees who wish to remain full-fledged, dues-paying union members.
The governor orders will be implemented by placing all state employee "fair share" dues in an escrow account, where they will stay until the court rules.
The governor is not without his own supporters.
"This is encouraging," said Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon. "Some people think he is just trying to stick it in the eye of the union. The reality is he is coming to the defense of those who are in the union. He's telling them they don't have to give money to the union if they don't want to. It's pretty hard to argue against freedom."
Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said he's behind the governor.
"Most state workers want to opt out of the union," he said, adding many stay quiet simply because they've become resigned to the situation.
"I think Gov. Rauner is focused like a laser beam on doing what it takes to make Illinois more competitive," Sosnowski added.
Patrick Semmens of the National Right to Work Foundation said there was no question Rauner's executive order will be challenged.
"The questions now will be about what form and who initiates it," he said.
Both Semmens and Vernuccio said the governor's action is built upon court rulings in cases including Harris v. Quinn, in which the high court ruled a number of home healthcare providers contracted by the state providers did not have to pay "fair share" dues.
Now, said Semmens, Rauner is asking the court to look at the bigger question of whether that should be the case for state employees.
"It's aggressive, extremely bold," said Vernuccio.
A similar case, Friederichs v. California Teachers Association, is working its way toward the Supreme Court, they said.
"Certainly if the governor's position were to prevail at the U.S. Supreme Court, it would significantly change collective bargaining as it relates to public employee unions nationally," said Kent Redfield, a retired University of Illinois at Springfield political science professor.
On Monday, the Democratic leaders who control both chambers of the General Assembly stayed low key.
"Our legal staff is reviewing the governor's executive order regarding fair share," Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said. "At the same time, I look forward to hearing the Governor's budget as we search for common ground to address our fiscal challenges."
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said much the same, reiterating the speaker's stance that urgent pressing fiscal matters take top priority.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network, an affiliate of Illinois Policy Institute.