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Appeals court ruling raises possibility for state employees' lawsuit over union fees to head to U.S. Supreme Court

Madison County Record

Saturday, April 1, 2017  |  Article  |  by Nicholas Gueguen

Labor (55) , Unions, labor (55)
CHICAGO — The U.S. Supreme Court could hear a case that disputes Illinois government workers' mandatory union fees based on a March 21 federal appeals court ruling.

In Janus v. AFSCME, the two plaintiffs are Illinois state government employees who objected to having to pay the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and Teamsters Local 916 union fees in order to keep their jobs.

Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation represented the plaintiffs at U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which recently affirmed the judgment of a district court, a result the plaintiffs had sought.  

“No one should be forced to pay money to a union as a condition of employment," Liberty Justice Center senior attorney Jacob Huebert said. "We’re pleased with the court’s ruling today; it allows us to present this issue to the U.S. Supreme Court so that it can declare that public sector workers can’t be forced to give their money to a union just to keep their jobs."

Most Illinois state government employees have to pay a union under state law in order to stay employed. State employees don't have to join unions, but they must pay “fair share” fees to the union even if they're not members. The plaintiffs brought this lawsuit alleging that their First Amendment rights are breached because they have to pay these fees.

The “fair share” rule grew out of a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which set the precedent for the Illinois state law because that case gave state and local governments power to force employees to pay union fees, even employees who did not join unions. The 7th Circuit and the district court used this in their rulings.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association last year. That case also disputed that requiring public sector workers to pay union fees as unconstitutional. After U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, the other justices were deadlocked on the case.

Illinois state workers' attorneys have to petition the U.S. Supreme Court within 90 days in order to have the case heard.