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Unions sue over Gov. Rauner’s executive order blocking ‘fair share’ union fees

More than 40,000 state employees are seeking to block Gov. Bruce Rauner’s executive order that would end a requirement that state workers pay union dues even if they don’t want to join a union.

Twenty-seven Illinois unions filed suit Thursday to invalidate the executive order Rauner signed last month blocking “fair share” union fees from state employee paychecks. The governor also said he was pursuing legal action to prevent public-sector unions from tapping the fees.

The Illinois AFL-CIO and 26 unions filed the suit in St. Clair County. AFL-CIO president Michael T. Carrigan called Rauner’s move illegal.

“Governor Rauner’s political obsession with stripping their [state employees] rights and driving down their wages demeans their service, hurts the middle class and is blatantly illegal,” Carrigan said in a statement.

Carrigan said he hopes the court “restores the integrity of our democratic process and make clear that no one, not Governor Rauner or anyone else, can place themselves above the law.”

The unions say fair share agreements are authorized by the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and are included in each of the state’s contracts with each of the unions in question.

The complaint alleges Rauner’s order violates state government’s separation of powers by repealing a public act.

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

He described moving on two fronts in blocking the automatic union fees. He signed the executive order that those who don’t want to join a union could avoid paying dues.

Rauner first tapped high-powered Chicago attorney Dan Webb to fight a parallel battle in federal court on behalf of the state. But Webb and his firm, Winston & Strawn withdrew, with Webb saying he couldn’t represent the state on Rauner’s behalf in court because of conflicts. Rauner has since tapped another high-profile attorney: Phil Beck. He represented President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the Florida recount trial vs. Democratic nominee Al Gore.

On Thursday, a Rauner office spokesman said the unions’ suit was expected.

“We always expected the government union bosses to fight to keep their stranglehold over Illinois taxpayers in place,” spokesman Lance Trover said in a statement. “These forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers, and the government unions will do anything to keep the broken status quo.”

The unions also plan to file a motion to dismiss Rauner’s related lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the state court is the appropriate venue to enforce state law.