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Rauner counter sues unions asserting First Amendment protection for non-union workers

By The Cook County Record | May 1, 2015

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, facing a suit to enforce contracts of state employee unions, has asked St. Clair County Associate Judge Christopher Kolker to declare the contracts unconstitutional.

Rauner filed a counter claim on April 24, asserting First Amendment protection for employees who don’t belong to unions, but must contribute to them.

He asked Kolker to validate an order he signed in February, prohibiting collection of “fair share” amounts from workers who don’t pay dues.

Rauner argues the First Amendment supersedes any inconsistent requirements in the Illinois statute that authorizes fair share provisions in union contracts.

His counter claim resembles a suit he filed against the unions at federal court in Chicago on the day he signed the order.

On March 5, the unions fired back on three fronts.

They moved to dismiss the federal suit, filed grievances challenging the order, and sued Rauner and agency chiefs in St. Clair County chancery court.

In the St. Clair action, the unions pleaded Rauner had breached their contracts.

In the motion to dismiss Rauner’s federal suit, they argued the governor lacked standing to assert the rights of workers.

Three workers then stepped forward to assert their rights in the Chicago action, first as intervenors and then as plaintiffs.

Rauner now pleads that the three have standing if he does not.

In Belleville, on April 10, Kolker approved a compromise to simplify the case.

Rauner dropped his plan to create an escrow account for payments in dispute, and the unions withdrew their grievances.

Two weeks later, in Kolker’s court, Mark Ouweleen, of Chicago, filed Rauner’s counter claim along with answers to the allegations of the unions.

In his answers, Ouweleen denied an allegation that Rauner “believes state employees are overpaid and receive excessive benefits for their public service.”

He denied allegations that Rauner wants to cut their wages and benefits and to “weaken their labor organizations and force concessions in the labor agreements set to expire on June 30, 2015.”

Ouweleen also denied an allegation that state employees benefit from union representation.

He took issue with an allegation that, “Illinois is a large, diverse, wealthy and populous state which is an agricultural, financial and transportation center.”

“Defendants deny the characterization of the state as wealthy,” Ouweleen wrote.

He wrote that the state faces an unfunded pension liability and “a staggering structural budget deficit.”

Ouweleen admitted Rauner’s responsibility for faithful execution of the laws, but wrote that Rauner took an oath to support the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions.

He also admitted an allegation that, “separation of powers prevents any one branch of government from exercising all of the power of the state.”

He denied an allegation that Rauner’s purpose is to undermine the bargaining ability of unions by demonstrating willingness to breach their agreements, creating financial incentives for their members to resign, and diminishing their resources.

He further denied allegations that the plaintiff unions will suffer more from the denial of an injunction than the defendant will from the issuance of one, and that the public interest would be served by injunctive relief.

“It is against the public policy of the state of Illinois to enforce a contract that compels Illinois citizens to fund speech with which they have not consented and do not agree,” he wrote.

As of April 28, Kolker had not set a hearing.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman, presiding over the Chicago action, has planned a May 27 hearing on the motion to dismiss.

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