Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday waged war against government unions, signing an executive order blocking so called “fair share” union fees from state employee paychecks while announcing he was pursuing legal action to prevent public-sector unions from tapping the fees.

It was a move that Illinois labor immediately decried as “a blatantly illegal use of power” and a signal that Rauner was seeking leverage as he heads into contract negotiations with government unions.

Rauner, a Republican, said state employees who choose not to participate in unions still must pay fees through the “fair share” provision.

Rauner described moving on two fronts in blocking the automatic union fees. He signed an executive order declaring that those who want to opt out of joining a union are able to avoid paying union dues. It would not affect those who want to remain active, he said.

On the second front, Rauner tapped former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb and his powerhouse law firm Winston & Strawn to file what is called a “declaratory judgment action” in federal court to have the provision declared unconstitutional.

“Forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers. Government union bargaining and government union political activity are inexorably linked,” Rauner said. “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.”

AFSCME, however, cited the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, saying that fair share does not go toward political contributions. Instead, the statute says fair share covers: “proportionate share of the costs of the collective-bargaining process, contract administration, and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment.”

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall noted it does “not include any fees for contributions related to the election or support of any candidate for political office.”

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Rauner cited Harris vs. Quinn, a U.S. Supreme Court case, saying home health care workers did not have to contribute automatically to union deductions, as precedent for his executive order and for future direction.

“We are also simultaneously filing what is known as a declaratory judgment action in the federal court asking ultimately that the [Illinois] Supreme Court declare that these fair share provisions are unconstitutional,” Rauner said. “Our all-star team of lawyers will be led by former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb and the lawyers at Winston & Strawn who will be part of the team representing the office of the governor.”

Webb and his law firm are working pro bono.

Organized labor in Illinois bristled at the announcement and promised legal action.

SEIU President Tom Balanoff told the Sun-Times Rauner’s actions were a smokescreen to really drive down working wages in Illinois.

“The order is not going to hold up. It’s not legal. Bruce Rauner knows this,” Balanoff said. He defended “fair share” as necessary and legal way to pay for services that unions provide to employees. Balanoff said fair share money goes toward collective-bargaining costs.
”I think it will undermine the ability to use the collective-bargaining process,” he said.

The state’s largest public employee union, AFSCME, vowed a legal fight.

“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,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said in a statement. “Perhaps as a private equity CEO, Rauner was accustomed to ignoring legal and ethical standards, but Illinois is still a democracy and its laws have meaning.

“It is crystal clear by this action that the governor’s supposed concern for balancing the state budget is a paper-thin excuse that can’t hide his real agenda: Silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class. Our union and all organized labor will stand together with those who believe in democracy to overturn Bruce Rauner’s illegal action and restore the integrity of the rule of law.”

The state’s teachers union also vowed to bring legal action.

“Our state has big financial problems, and the new governor’s ideological attacks on working families isn’t the way to solve them,” Illinois Federation of Teachers spokeswoman Aviva Bowen said. “Today’s executive order is an abuse of power and the democratic process, and we won’t stand for it. We are exploring all legal options at this point, and we fully intend to hold this governor accountable to the U.S. Constitution, Illinois law, and collective-bargaining agreements.”

Rauner has been at odds with unions since he launched his political campaign in 2013. The Winnetka venture capitalist repeatedly said “government union bosses” were what ailed Springfield, calling for an elimination of political donations from unions to politicians. Union groups spent tens of millions of dollars in an unsuccessful attempt to deny Rauner the governor’s seat in Illinois.