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Rauner administration spreads word on internet about how to change union status

Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration on Wednesday launched a website to inform state workers about potentially changing their union status. | State of Illinois website

Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration on Wednesday launched a website to inform state workers about potentially changing their union status. | State of Illinois website

Unions vowed to unite, “stand up against the billionaire bullies” and recruit even more members in light of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that might strip them of cash and power.

At the same time, the state of Illinois quickly launched a government website where workers in public-sector unions could learn about how to change their union status and avoid paying dues. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees responded with an email to state workers that blasted Gov. Bruce Rauner for launching that site and accusing him of “misleading” state employees.

Welcome to the reality of the post-Janus-v.-AFSCME era.

Anti-union groups that helped propel the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 against public-sector unions, are expected to pour big money into campaigns to convince workers to leave them. Unions already are peppering workers with information to counter that.

The Supreme Court ruled that government workers can’t be forced to contribute “fair share” fees to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, potentially dealing those unions a serious financial blow. State laws that required workers to pay such fees — including a law in Illinois — violate workers’ First Amendment free-speech rights, the high court ruled.

Unions have had years to prepare for the ruling. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said there are about 800,000 members in states affected by the fair-share case. She said more than 500,000 of those members “said they’re sticking with the union” in recommitment campaigns the union has launched.

“Don’t count us out for the right wing thirst and extremism or the right thirst for power,” Weingarten said in a conference call with reporters. ”

Illinois’ Central Management Services Department was quick to send an email to all state employees saying the state will stop deducting “fair-share” fees, also called “agency fees,” from paychecks of non-union members. State officials equated those fees to about $737 per member per year — with full union member dues at about $911 per member.

The email also reminds employees that they can opt-in or opt-out of a union at any time. It also provides a link to a “Team Illinois Union Status” page to notify CMS of their choices and find out what the dues deduction is for their bargaining unit.

Jim Franczek, the chief labor negotiator in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, said the impact of the Janus ruling is likely to be “very union specific.”

“Police and fire unions because of the nature of those unions are very unlikely to be impacted. They have a particular culture of both the Police and Fire Departments. There’s also a wide range of ancillary benefits that are given to their members as a result of union membership [and bargaining]. You have a legal defense fund that’s a product of union membership and other benefits” like supplemental pay, Franczek said.

“So the incentive for a police officer or firefighter to stay with their union is fairly high,” Franczek added. “And that differs from other unions. How much so, we simply don’t know. It could have no impact whatsoever in the city of Chicago and it could have a larger impact in the suburbs and downstate.”

Jim Tracy, president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, said the Janus decision should have a minimal impact on his union’s membership and bargaining power.

“Local 2 is very fortunate to have 14 members out of 4,800 that are fair share. I expect those misled individuals to try and pay nothing and reap the rewards of our hard fought battles,” Tracy wrote in a text message to the Sun-Times. “My fears are for our brothers and sisters with AFSCME and SEIU. Many don’t understand how hard their union reps have worked to advance their agenda.”

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OPINION

• Janus case is part of continuing attack on workers

• Union ‘fair share’ fees protect all workers without infringing on free speech

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.