Union lawsuit claiming right to not represent non-union members could upset public labor relations: Attorney

By John Breslin | Mar 7, 2019

A labor union has won the right to move forward with a unique challenge that emerged in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year on whether non-union workers should pay fair share fees for representation.

If it succeeds, the lawsuit could upset management-labor relations for government employers, a labor lawyer says.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case known as Janus vs American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that unions were barred by the U.S. Constitution from using the power of the state and other governments from compelling non-union workers from paying so-called "agency" or "fair share" fees, ostenstibly charged to reimburse the union for collective bargaining expenses.,

The decision has led to different responses from different unions in the state.

Melissa Sobota   Franczek PC

Most unions have said they will continue to advocate and negotiate on behalf of all workers, but the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, headquartered in suburban Countryside, has taken its own unique path, said Melissa Sobota, a partner at the Chicago-based firm of Franczek P.C., which represents management in labor and employment disputes.

Local 150 filed suit in Chicago federal court in early 2018, before the Supreme Court ruling, arguing that an Illinois law forcing a union to represent non-dues paying members should also be unconstitutional because it violates the free speech and First Amendment rights of union members, whose dues could be used to fund bargaining representation for non-union members who refuse to pay fees.

Following the Janus decision, the Illinois Attorney General's office and Labor Relations Board filed motions to dismiss the case. On Feb. 22, the district court ruled that it can move forward.

Sobota said she was surprised the union filed suit in the first place, particularly given the position of other unions representing public employees that have taken the stance they want to fight to increase dues-paying membership rather than potentially alienate workers.

Sobota said it is an interesting argument, essentially that "if you are not going to pay for their services, you are not going to use their resources."

And there are even more interesting implications, particularly for employers, if the suit is ultimately successful, Sobota said.

Currently, "for the employer, there is just one central location" for dealing with employment issues, she said. But if individuals are not covered by collective bargaining, then the employers will face dealing with multiple contracts, while running the risk of drawing up ones that clash with the union deals, Sobota said.

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Organizations in this Story

Franczek Radelet PC International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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