Rauner calls pro-union Supreme Court ruling ‘tragic’

Kim Geiger and Monique Garcia   Chicago Tribune

One of Rauner’s first acts after taking over last year was to try to stop such fees from being passed on to unions. The issue ended up in a lawsuit that’s pending in federal court in Chicago.

Asked about the ruling during a school visit in LeRoyin east-central Illinois, Rauner called it a “tragic decision by the court.”

“It’s a loss for freedom of speech and freedom of political expression in the United States, it’s a loss for teachers, I think it’s a loss for all government employees,” Rauner said. “It was clear that Justice Scalia would have supported freedom of speech and political affiliation and that decision would have gone the other way, but the court was split 4-4 and therefore upheld the lower court.”

Unions applauded the Supreme Court’s split decision but warned that it was likely not the final word on the issue.

Rauner also had weighed in on the California case, filing a brief with the Supreme Court in which he contended that public sector union activities in Illinois can’t be separated between political and nonpolitical.

“Even those union activities that are confined to collective bargaining have significant political implications,” Rauner’s lawyers wrote. “Enriched by contributions from members and nonmembers alike, public sector unions in Illinois, whose labor and management sit on the same side of the table, have negotiated wages and benefits that have unrealistically kept going up while the state economy has kept going down. The connection is hardly coincidental.”

Rauner’s attempt to withhold Illinois workers’ fair-share fees was put on hold last year when a judge in St. Clair County ordered the state to keep passing the fees along while the matter continued to play out in court.

When Rauner tried to press the issue in federal court, a judge dismissed him from the case, saying Rauner lacked standing to challenge public unions in his official capacity because he had “no personal interest at stake.” Three workers who also were contesting the payments were allowed to proceed with their own complaint, and Rauner on Tuesday said he hopes that case will bring the matter back to the high court.

“Our case is winding its way through the courts and it will get to the Supreme Court probably at some point in the future,” Rauner said. “And we will just continue the fight for the freedom of political expression and the right of free speech for government employees. It’s a fundamental issue.”