A federal judge has refused unions’ request to reconsider his decision to toss their lawsuit, arguing a Supreme Court decision allowing non-union workers to stop paying compulsory fees to unions should also be read to prohibit local governments from using taxes to fund organizations which lobby in favor of policies opposed by labor unions.
On Jan. 24, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey denied a motion from two labor unions, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, to alter or amend his earlier ruling.
The ruling comes about three weeks since the unions filed their motion, asserting the judge did not give them the opportunity to present “newly discovered evidence” to support their contention membership dues paid by the village of Lincolnshire to the Illinois Municipal League should be considered impermissible donations to a private advocacy group, rather than “government speech.”
In their lawsuit, the union plaintiffs said their First Amendment rights are violated when a municipal government, like the village of Lincolnshire, uses tax dollars to fund IML lobbying efforts that may run against 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 high court found mandatory union fees violate the speech rights of non-union workers forced to pay them, because the unions receiving the money may engage in political speech and activities the non-union workers may oppose.
The unions asserted their rights are similarly violated when local governments use tax dollars to promote political positions with which they disagree.
Lincolnshire and the IML, however, argued they engage in government speech, to which the First Amendment doesn’t necessarily apply.
In a ruling in early December, Blakey sided with the village and the IML, saying the IML’s speech should also be considered government speech because it lobbies on behalf of local government interests and is “effectively controlled by the government.”
Blakey dismissed the unions’ constitutional claims with prejudice – meaning the unions would be barred from refiling them – but merely declined to exercise jurisdiction over the unions’ two remaining claims under state law.
In their new motion, the unions said they have since gathered new evidence, which they said demonstrates the IML should be treated as a private organization.
Among other evidence, the unions said the IML allows private sponsorship of its organization and events; is only one-third funded by its member cities and villages; has made financial contributions to private organizations and “religious organizations;” and has asserted in responses to Freedom of Information Act requests that it is not a public organization subject to FOIA, as are local governments.
In his latest ruling, however, Blakey said he found the “new evidence” less than compelling.
He noted most of the additional evidence cited by the unions should have been easily discoverable at least weeks before his ruling.
Further, he said he did not believe the unions demonstrated how the additional evidence changes anything. He noted, for instance, the contribution to a "religious organization" was a memorial donation on behalf of the IML board president's deceased wife.
“… Plaintiffs fail to explain why the IML’s purported public entity status under the Illinois FOIA pertains to its status under the government speech doctrine,” the judge said.
“… Plaintiffs also fail to explain why membership in national and local government groups constitutes impermissible political activity under the government speech doctrine. Finally, they fail to explain how a single memorial donation transforms the IML into a private entity for purposes of the government speech doctrine.
“In short, Plaintiffs fail to meet their burden of ‘clearly establish[ing]’ that this Court should reverse its prior judgment.”
Judge Blakey also clarified he had dismissed their state law claims without prejudice.
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.