Illinois unions, including the Illinois Federation of Teachers, are suing over a recent executive order by Gov. Bruce Rauner directing state agencies to stop enforcing “fair share” provisions in their contracts with employees.
Fair-share fees, sometimes called “agency” or “shop” fees, are charged to individuals who aren’t union members, but who benefit from collective bargaining—such as when a teachers’ union negotiates wage increases on behalf of all teachers. The fees cannot support political activity, only bargaining services.
In their filing, the unions say that the executive order conflicts with state law and interferes with dozens of inked contracts.
The Illinois situation stands to be closely watched because increasingly, the argument from critics of fair-share arrangements is that it’s impossible to separate collective bargaining positions—think tenure and senority—from politics. That’s the basic argument Rauner, a Republican, has been making, according to the Chicago Tribune‘s very good writeup.
This dispute is also related to a coming battle at the national level. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to extend fair-share requirements to child-care workers in Illinois, although it didn’t touch the key legal precedent establishing unions’ right to compel payment of the fees, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. But the court’s conservative justices also seemed to invite a more focused challenge to the Abood precedent. And like clockwork, just such a case has emerged and cranked through the lower courts. (The Supreme Court hasn’t yet decided whether to take it up.)
There are 24 so-called “right to work” states in which nonunion members cannot be compelled to pay the fees. Michigan is the most recent state to become a right-to-work state. And in Wisconsin, where union membership has declined catastrophically since Republicans pushed through a bill severly curbing unions’ collective bargaining power, a right-to-work policy could be next: A measure to that end is sitting on Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.
As my colleague Andrew Ujifusa has reported, fair share isn’t the only thing the unions don’t like about Rauner: He also wants to shift employees onto 401(k)-style defined-contribution pension plans from than their traditional, defined-benefit plans—the type unions typically favor.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.