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Positively Putinesque: IL Gov Flouts Law of Land with Aggressive Anti-Union Executive Action


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On Monday, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed an executive action that prohibits public sector unions from collecting ‘fair share fees’ from those who benefit from the collective bargaining of a union, but choose not to belong to the union.  Since his election in November, Rauner has taken aim at labor unions, talking to audiences about his desire for Illinois to have “Kentucky style ‘Right-to-Work’ zones”.  His executive action effectively imposes “Right-to-Work” rules on the public sector.  

Gov. Rauner’s legal justification for creating this free-riders’ paradise is that it is “nearly impossible” to distinguish between political spending and administrative spending given that public sector unions negotiate with the government.  Announcing his decision and the rationale behind it, Rauner’s statement read:

“Forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers.  An employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree. That is a clear violation of First Amendment rights — and something that, as governor, I am duty bound to correct.”

The constitutionality of the executive action was immediately called into question. Unions labeled Rauner’s move “an illegal abuse of power.”  Senate president John Cullerton, a Democrat, said of his party’s response to the move: “Our legal staff is reviewing the governor’s executive order regarding fair share.  At the same time, I look forward to hearing the governor’s budget as we search for common ground to address our fiscal challenges.”

Democrats may be able to overrule the executive action in the legislature.

To help streamline the pushback, Rauner took the positively Putinesque step of pre-emptively filing a lawsuit in Chicago seeking to have his decision declared legal.  

Roberta Lynch, Executive Director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, weighed in:

“Bruce Rauner’s scheme to strip the rights of state workers and weaken their unions by executive order is a blatantly illegal abuse of power.  Perhaps as a private equity C.E.O., Rauner was accustomed to ignoring legal and ethical standards, but Illinois is still a democracy and its laws have meaning.

It is crystal clear by this action, that the governor’s supposed concern for balancing the state budget is a paper-thin excuse that can’t hide his real agenda: silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class.”

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 president Christine Boardman told WGN, “Governor Rauner`s Executive Order today showed his true colors: a man whose top priority is to ruin the lives of working families in Illinois.”

The governor’s move will affect roughly 6,500 employees, whereas AFSCME estimates that 42,000 state employees are represented by unions.  But the promise of future unrest for labor could be the most costly aspect of Rauner’s decision. Will Illinois simply become another Midwestern state governed by a Republican ideologue who flouts precedent and populus? Both Indiana and Michigan became “Right-to-Work” states as a result of this direction.

Bob Bruno, director of the labor education program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told the New York Times that “the governor’s action was an aggression against public unions in a state where organized labor’s influence runs deep.”  He also noted that it will have minimal effect given that most eligible state employees are union members:

“In principle, it’s a pretty serious assault. In terms of impact, it remains to be seen because it’s a relatively small percentage of the population that’s chosen fair share.  This is an assault on the institutional existence of the union in the public sector, and these sorts of fights are historic fights and have big impact.”


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