SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. Bruce Rauner’s lawsuit over forced fees paid by non-union state workers may proceed, but without the governor participating, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman decreed that the Republican, who has tried to limit labor unions’ political influence in his short tenure, does not have sufficient interest in the matter to seek a federal opinion that so-called “fair-share” fees are unconstitutional.
And he declared Rauner cannot collect the fair-share fees and keep them in a separate account — away from the unions — until the matter is settled.
But the judge decided that three non-union Illinois workers who were added to the suit later may press the case. Mark Janus of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Marie Quigley of the Department of Public Health and the Transportation Department’s Brian Trygg are better positioned to show “injury” from being forced to pay the fees, but they must prove as legal action moves forward that federal intervention is justified.
Rauner was “greatly encouraged” by the decision, a spokeswoman said.
Fair-share fees are paid by non-union workers to support bargaining, processing of grievances and other activities of the collective bargaining unit, which represents non-members too.
Rauner complained they violate First Amendment free-speech protections: If a worker doesn’t want to join a union, he or she shouldn’t have to financially support it.
“He seeks to represent the non-member employees subject to the fair share provisions of the collective bargaining agreements,” Gettleman wrote. “He has no standing to do so. They must do it on their own.”
Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, called the decision a “setback” for Rauner, including his attempt to collect fair-share fees and keep them in an escrow account while the issue wends its way through the legal knot.
“This should be a strong signal to the governor that it’s time he treats public service workers with respect,” Carrigan said in a statement.
Several unions filed a lawsuit in St. Clair County Circuit Court challenging the executive order Rauner issued in February lifting the fair share requirement.
That’s where Rauner will continue his campaign, spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said. While “disappointed” he can’t participate, Kelly said, “the governor supports the fair share employees who are now leading this effort.”
Rauner, a private-equity investor who has criticized public sector unions since he took office in January, has followed the lead of other Midwestern governors who have confronted organized labor. He has encouraged the establishment of right-to-work zones in which local communities decide whether to allow union representation of its workforce. His stance has drawn strong opposition from majority Democrats and unions in labor-friendly Illinois.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is paying the legal fees of the workers in the lawsuit, said it was pleased with the ruling.
“No worker should be forced to subsidize a union just to work for their own government,” spokesman Patrick Semmens said.
JOHN O’CONNOR, AP Political Writer