As the U.S. Supreme Court prepared to hear arguments on the question of whether state rules requiring non-union workers pay fees to unions violate the Constitution, a union member in suburban Lincolnshire has sued his village government, demanding the court declare the rights of union members have been similarly violated by local governments which use taxpayer money to fund lobbyists to seek reforms opposed by unions.
On Feb. 21, plaintiff Dixon O’Brien, with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, filed suit in Chicago federal court, asking the judge to order the village of Lincolnshire to no longer pay its membership dues to the Illinois Municipal League, a lobbying organization representing cities and municipal governments across the state, contending the village’s use of money paid by taxpayers, including himself, violates the First and 14th Amendment rights of taxpayers opposed to the IML’s political goals.
The lawsuit from O’Brien and Local 150 comes as the courts continue to wrestle over various questions surrounding the speech and labor rights of those who do not wish to join labor unions, including at least one case involving Lincolnshire.
On Feb. 26, the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case docketed as Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. In that lawsuit, the plaintiff, Illinois state employee Mark Janus, backed by the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, of Springfield, Va., and the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, has asked the high court to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v Detroit Board of Education, which had allowed state and local governments to require non-union workers to pay so-called “fair share” fees to labor unions, on the premise the fees compensate the unions for representing the non-union workers during contract talks.
Janus’ lawyers, however, have argued the fees are unconstitutional, because they compel non-union workers, as a condition of employment, to pay money to organizations whose politics and goals they do not support.
Observers expect the court will use the Janus case to overturn Abood, after deadlocking 4-4 on a similar case originating out of California in 2016, following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and before the appointment of Justice Neill Gorsuch by President Donald Trump in 2017.
In filing their new lawsuit, O’Brien and Local 150 cite language from the brief filed with the Supreme Court by Janus’ attorneys, which argues against the fair-share, or “agency fees,” by saying the fees “inflict the same grievous First Amendment injury as would the government forcing individuals to support a mandatory lobbyist or political advocacy group.”
In this case, O’Brien contends his rights and those of other union members in Lincolnshire were violated by the village’s payment of dues to the IML, which in 2015 had lobbied local governments to support Rauner’s so-called “Turnaround Agenda,” a package of reforms to labor and wage laws, workers compensation rules and collective bargaining rules, among others, described by opponents as “anti-union.”
O’Brien noted he had particularly objected to Lincolnshire’s support of the establishment of so-called “local right-to-work zones,” under which local governments could seek to carve out local exemptions to national and state labor laws governing union membership and labor relations within businesses.
In December 2015, the Lincolnshire village board approved an ordinance establishing such a local right-to-work zone within the community. In 2017, however, the ordinance was struck down in federal court as illegal, as a judge found the National Labor Relations Act only allows states to carve out right-to-work exemptions.
The village, represented by the Liberty Justice Center, has appealed that decision, and arguments in that case are set for March 27 before the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
In his new lawsuit, O’Brien noted he had written a letter on Jan. 18 to Lincolnshire Mayor Elizabeth Brandt, asking the village to refund the “portion of his tax money that funded lobbying and other political activities, including but not limited to his share of dues paid to the IML.”
He said he has not yet received a reply.
O’Brien and Local 150 are represented in the action by attorneys Dale Pierson, Kenneth Edwards and James Connolly Jr., of the Local 150 Legal Department, of suburban Countryside, and attorney Joseph Sweeney of the Indiana Illinois Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, of Countryside.