A federal judge has rejected an attempt by unions to force the village of Lincolnshire to stop paying dues to the Illinois Municipal League because the association of Illinois cities and villages lobbies in favor of policies union members may oppose.
In an opinion issued Dec. 7, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey granted a joint motion filed by the village and the Illinois Municipal League, asking the judge to dismiss the legal action brought by two union members and two local labor unions, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters.
The union plaintiffs said their First Amendment rights are violated when a municipality uses tax dollars to fund IML lobbying efforts that run counter to union objectives. The plaintiffs based their arguments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Janus v the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, in which the 5-4 majority found mandatory union fees violate speech rights of non-union workers by forcing them to associate with a private organization whose political speech and activities the non-union workers may oppose.
The unions asserted their rights are similarly violated when local governments use their taxes to promote political positions with which they disagree.
Lorilea Buerkett Brown Hay & Stephens
Lincolnshire and the IML countered by arguing they engage in government speech, which they say remains protected from First Amendment scrutiny.
Blakey agreed with the defendants, quoting from a 2011 decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Freedom from Religion Foundation v Obama, which held: “The government, as a general rule, may support valid programs and policies by taxes or other exactions binding on protesting parties. Within this broader principle it seems inevitable that funds raised by the government will be spent for speech and other expression to advocate and defend its own policies.”
According to Blakey, his decision rested on whether he sided with the plaintiffs’ position that the IML, as a private, third-party entity, engages in private or government speech. While acknowledging the government speech doctrine is “relatively new” and “still evolving,” Blakey pointed to a 2013 federal court case in Maine, Adams v Maine Municipal Association, in which the court determined the association’s speech was public since it “was effectively controlled by the government.”
The Maine association was comprised only of municipalities — nearly every one in the state — and its executive and legislative policy committees were comprised exclusively of government workers. Although not every individual member agreed with the group’s overall policy, Blakey continued, those parties consented to be represented by the association by joining and had the chance to influence those positions through internal structure.
Blakey said the IML is similarly organized, pointing to the state law that authorizes its existence. Further, he wrote, “As in any large government entity or organization, the association does not need unanimity on any given policy position to effectively advocate on behalf of its members.”
The plaintiffs further argued the IML’s anti-union lobbying efforts exceed its statutory authorization, as it isn’t “germane to a broader regulatory scheme.” Blakey disagreed, saying the law allows “IML members to take public policy positions on, and disseminate information about, methods of improving local government.”
Blakey said Lincolnshire residents upset with the village’s support of the IML “can express this opinion at the ballot box, or limit the conduct of elected officials by law, regulation or practice.” He dismissed the First Amendment and concomitant association claims with prejudice.
The union plaintiffs also claimed their 14th Amendment equal protection rights are infringed, but Blakey said the same logic that undercuts the other counts also means the village did not illegally compel anyone “to support political activities with which they disagree while allowing others to refuse to do so.” He also dismissed that claim with prejudice.
Finally, Blakey declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction on two remaining state law claims.
The union plaintiffs are represented by Countryside-based Local 150 staff attorneys Dale D. Pierson, Kenneth Edwards, James Connolly Jr. and Robert Paszta; attorneys Marc R. Poulos, Kara M. Principe and Joseph Sweeney, of the Indiana Illinois Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting; Kenneth D. Lamb, of Corboy & Demetrio P.C., of Chicago; and Terrance B. McGann and Karen M. Rioux, of the firm of McGann Ketterman & Rioux, of Chicago.
Lincolnshire and the IML are represented in the case by attorneys Lorilea Buerkett and Daniel L. Hamilton, of the firm of Brown Hay & Stephens LLP, of Springfield, and Thomas G. DiCianni and Adam B. Simon, of the firm of Ancel Glink Diamond Bush DiCianni & Krafthefer P.C., of Chicago and Vernon Hills.