WASHINGTON — This is a city Gov. Bruce Rauner has mostly avoided since taking office, but in this election year he’s been here since Sunday, waiting for the Supreme Court opinion on the anti-public sector union case he started, Janus v AFSCME Council 31, with the decision expected on Wednesday, the last day of the term.
Rauner, in an interview with the Sun-Times on Capitol Hill, said that with a victory, the state of Illinois will launch a website telling state workers how to opt out of paying fees to government unions and predicted that outside groups will launch opt-out drives.
The Supreme Court does not announce opinions in advance. With the Justices working through their docket this month, it was clear heading into this final week the Justices were going to get to Janus sooner or later.
It’s turning out later.
On Monday and Tuesday morning, Rauner was in the Supreme Court courtroom, sitting with Mark Janus, the child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services in Springfield who became the name plaintiff after a lower court judge ruled in 2015 Rauner did not have standing to bring the case.
If they win, Rauner and Janus will head to the Supreme Court steps to take a victory lap, making statements with the iconic building as the backdrop. That’s what they did on the steps last February, after the Justices heard the Janus oral argument.
Given the conservative majority on the court, Rauner is highly likely to prevail in a 5-4 ruling, overturning a precedent that for decades have allowed government unions to collect mandatory fees from workers who chose not to join the union representing them.
Republican Rauner has made weakening Democratic-allied Illinois public sector unions a crusade and the Janus case will play into his bid for a second term, where he is locked in a battle with Democratic nominee J.B. Pritzker.
A Janus win means government workers in 22 states, including Illinois, will have the choice to opt out of paying fees to unions representing them, even if they are not members.
That will cut into union revenues, membership and potentially diminish the local and national political power of government unions.
Rauner told the Sun-Times, “If we win the case, we will notify the state employees of their rights, the outcome of the case. We will inform them of their ability to choose whether to pay the dues or not, and direct them to a website or other information where they can implement their choice.”
Government unions have been bracing for a defeat and expect groups, bankrolled by mega donor anti-union conservatives, running campaigns to persuade government workers to opt-out of unions.
Rauner said the state will not mount a campaign; he expects outside groups will, telling the Sun-Times, “I believe that folks outside of the government both in Illinois and around the country will be working to advocate for an opt out campaign, I believe.
“And I believe that there will be forces including the union and other forces that will be pushing government employees to stay in the union or join the union.”
I asked Rauner, spending millions of dollars in his bid for a second term, if he would put some of his money into an opt-out campaign.
“I haven’t thought about that,” he said.
Opt-out and stay-in drives related to Janus have already started.
For months now, unions have been stepping up appeals to retain members. The conservative Freedom Foundation has been running what they label a “Pre-Janus Opt-Out campaign” in California and four other states.
Pritzker communications chief Galia Slayen, noting Rauner’s stay here said, “It’s kind of crazy that the governor of the sixth largest state in the country, who says he doesn’t like spending time in Washington, is now just camping out in D.C. waiting for a photo-op.”
FOOTNOTE: On Monday night, Rauner had dinner with Illinois GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis and Michael Bost. On Tuesday, Rauner met with Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., in his Longworth House Building office. Rauner, since he was close, decided to drop by the office of an Illinois House Democrat — Rep. Cheri Bustos — who also is in Longworth — surprising her staff. Bustos was not in at the time.
DISCLOSURE NOTE: Some unions have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media, including the Chicago Federation of Labor; Operating Engineers Local 150; SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana and SEIU Local 1.