In the wake of a deadlock at the U.S. Supreme Court, letting stand a federal appeals court’s ruling that public unions can compel
workers not represented by unions to pay so-called “fair share” fees in lieu of
union dues, a Chicago federal judge has tossed a lawsuit brought by several
Illinois state workers, similarly challenging the union’s payroll deductions.
U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman dismissed the legal
action brought by state employees Mark Janus and Brian Trygg, who had
intervened as plaintiffs in the legal action originally brought by Illinois
Gov. Bruce Rauner against government worker unions to stop the fees from being
taken from the paychecks of state workers, on the grounds that the mandatory
collection of the fees violates the constitutional rights of state workers who
do not wish to associate with the unions.
While unions are not permitted to use the fees to fund
explicitly political activities, the legal challenge argued the work of a union
representing government workers cannot be separated from the union’s political
activities, since the union deals with lawmakers and other government officials
as a matter of course.
According to the lawsuit, about 6,600 of the state’s more
than 46,000 employees make fair share payments, rather than pay union dues. The
lawsuit noted fair share fees can amount to as much 99 percent of the dues paid
by similar workers who are union members.
Unions have argued the fees are needed to offset the costs
unions incur for collective bargaining, which the unions claim benefits all
employees, whether they are full members of the union or not.
In May 2015, Gettleman ruled Rauner had no standing to sue, saying
he had no standing to represent the fair share fee-paying state workers.
However, at that time, the judge allowed the Janus and Trygg to step in and
replace Rauner as the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
As Rauner’s legal challenge to the fees was entering the
court system, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of
Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, finding public unions are
entitled to the fees, despite a similar challenge from public workers in
California, who similarly argued the fees violated their free speech and free
On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on the
case, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, allowing the
Ninth Circuit’s ruling to stand.
In light of those rulings, attorneys for the unions and the
state asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the decisions left the
1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education – which
had allowed the collection of fair share fees, and which the California and
Illinois cases had sought to overturn - as “valid and binding precedent.”
Gettleman agreed, delivering his judgment in an order
covering a little more than a page.
“Plaintiffs continue to argue that Abood was wrongly
decided, but recognize that it remains controlling in the instant case,”
Gettleman wrote. “Consequently, defendants’ motion to dismiss is granted.”
The unions were represented in the case by the firms of
Dowd, Bloch, Bennett, Cervone, Auerbach & Yokich, of Chicago; Feldman
Wasser, of Springfield; and Bredhoff & Kaiser, of Washington, D.C.
State defendants were represented by the Illinois Attorney
Plaintiffs in the case were represented by the Liberty
Justice Center, of Chicago; Winston & Strawn, of Chicago; the National
Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, of Springfield, Va.; and Bartlit Beck
Herman Palenchar & Scott, of Chicago.