Economy, Regs, & Taxes

A Blow to Illinois Unions Is a Win for Jobs

Gov. Rauner will allow state workers to opt out of paying union dues.

Feb. 12, 2015

While it’s debatable whether anything politically good can come out of Chicago, something good came out of the Illinois state capital of Springfield this week. In a blow to the state’s bloated government unions, newly elected Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed an executive order Monday allowing state workers to opt out of paying union dues.

At issue is Illinois’ lack of a “right to work” law, meaning workers can be required to pay either union dues or fees as a condition of employment. As a result, most government employees in Illinois have to dish out part of their paycheck to a union as a condition of getting that paycheck. And even those who refuse to join a union are required to pay “fair share” dues. After all, they “benefit” from union contracts.

Citing First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and association, however, Rauner took issue with this practice, saying compulsory payments to unions require some workers to “subsidize and enable union activities that they do not support,” and he ordered the state “to immediately cease enforcement of the Fair Share Contract Provisions.”

Naturally, unions aren’t taking this well. According to the state’s largest public union, “The governor’s proposal to bar public employees from participating in our democracy would further tilt a playing field weighted heavily in favor of big business and the wealthy.” Of course, participatory democracy has nothing to do with this. Instead, unions are downright petrified they’re going to lose their money.

Public unions play leading roles in the Prairie State’s corruption drama. While collecting forced dues from government workers, unions use the dough to lobby the government for more pay and benefits in a relationship Investor’s Business Daily aptly terms “incestuous.” In fact, The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk notes, “State employees in Illinois make 26 percent more than comparable private sector workers. They enjoy particularly generous retirement benefits.”

Meanwhile, the state’s pension system is the most underfunded in the country, and taxpayers are squeezed, dishing out the second-highest property taxes in the nation in a failed attempt to fund it all.

But it gets even better. To grease the skids, public unions donate heavily to lawmakers’ re-election campaigns, meaning legislators have little impetus to fight union demands. The Illinois Policy Institute reports that between 2002 and 2014, a whopping 86% of state legislators received campaign contributions from government unions, including more than $1 million that went to the state speaker of the house – who also happens to be chairman of the Democrat Party of Illinois.

Of course, this dance doesn’t benefit Illinois residents, who bear the financial brunt of paying for the ongoing rendezvous. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state’s economic situation is downright abysmal. While nationwide employment growth from 2003 to 2014 was 7.3%, in Illinois, it was 0.2%. And the state ranks consistently low in business climate, too.

Still, unions aren’t going to take this blow lying down. But proving he’s no dummy, Rauner coupled his executive order with a preemptive lawsuit asking a federal district court to uphold the order. There is precedent, too. In the 2014 Supreme Court case of Harris vs. Quinn, the Court raised the question of whether forced payment of union dues is constitutional.

At the very least, however, Illinois’ public unions are now on the defensive and scrambling to keep the money and power that are their raison d'être. If Rauner’s actions are any indication, though, unions are fighting a losing battle.

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