Remember when GOP candidate Bruce Rauner used to thunder on about “union bosses” and the “corrupt bargains” they make with lawmakers they spend millions to help elect? It turns out Gov. Bruce Rauner has the same dim view of the state’s labor leaders.
Just weeks after taking office, Rauner wants to snuff out “fair-share” union dues in state offices. His decision has an out-of-the-blue feel to it at a time when what the state needs, ASAP, is a plan to balance the budget. It also seems a distracting and doctrinaire fight to pick with public-sector unions that necessarily will have a seat at the table as the state takes on some of its biggest challenges—including fixing the massive pension mess.
Perhaps the governor believes those unions don’t deserve a seat at that table at all. In fact, his executive order and accompanying federal lawsuit read like an outright attempt to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the 1977 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld public-sector fair-share rules. Conservatives have been on a mission to topple Abood, recognizing that pulling the plug on fair-share fees essentially would pull the plug on public-sector unions. Governors of nearby states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, have waged similar battles, and Rauner clearly is reading from their playbook. The question is, can he afford to?
Fair-share fees are paid by nonunion members in union shops. They’re meant to fund union activities that benefit all employees, like collective bargaining. Rauner regards these payments as essentially forced speech, since he worries that money goes toward “inherently political activities” that some workers may not support.
Recent Supreme Court rulings—including a 2014 decision involving Illinois home-health workers—have chipped away at fair-share fees in public-sector workplaces, and Rauner’s move signals he’d like to be the one to strike the final blow.
Whether that’s a noble goal is another matter. What’s clear is that Rauner’s full-on attack on unions is an odd choice for a blue-state governor who, for a while, had been sounding more temperate on the need to reach across the aisle and find consensus. Antagonizing your unionized workforce, their leaders and their powerful Democratic allies who control the General Assembly could be a move that comes back to haunt Rauner—and, in turn, those of us who are counting on him to lead the state out of crisis.