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POINT: Should Illinois ban ‘fair share fees’ to unions?

Yes, only unions benefit by resisting the changes that will help state out of its free-fall

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda contains a provision that would empower voters to choose if workers should be forced to join a union or pay fair share fees as a condition of employment. Supportive  legislation would authorize “employee empowerment zones” to be established in any county, municipality, school district, or other unit of local government. Within a zone, state law would give workers the right to voluntarily join, or refrain from joining, a union. It would be unlawful to condition employment on the obligation to join a union or pay union-related dues within a zone. The columns on this and the following page take opposing sides of the debate.
    The fiscal crisis in Illinois is severe. The state’s families and businesses are forced to bear the brunt of hundreds of billions of dollars in debt and unfunded liabilities. We have the nation’s worst credit rating. We pay the second-highest property taxes in the nation. Illinois’ pension debt has reached $111 billion – with one-fourth of the state’s budget consumed by government-worker pensions.
    With only $25.9 billion of assets available to pay bills totaling $212.8 billion, there is no way to tax or borrow our way out of this crisis. Reforming the state’s failed systems is the only answer. Gov. Rauner is trying to pull Illinois out of its financial free-fall. That’s what his Turnaround Agenda is designed to help accomplish. Yet, major public sector unions resist any and all attempts at structural change because the status quo benefits them. That is why they continue to support Speaker Madigan’s reign of economic terror with thousands of foot soldiers and, more importantly, millions and millions of dollars.
    The money government unions spend on Illinois politics is staggering. Moreover, much of the money collected to support Speaker Madigan and his ilk is coerced from non-member government employees who are forced to pay union dues. According to the union bosses, they charge these “fair share fees” because non-union government employees benefit from the union’s collective bargaining efforts. In reality, these fees are used for political speech that many government employees – union and non-union alike – oppose.
    A sizeable minority of union members nationwide lean right, preferring Republican candidates and conservative causes. One recent Gallup poll found that around one in four members of private and public-sector unions identified as Republican. A study by Cornell’s Roper Center found that 40 percent of union households voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Numerous exit polls in recent years have found that between 35 and 40 percent of union households vote Republican.
    Yet, Planned Parenthood and its advocacy nonprofit received $435,000 in 2014 from unions spending their members’ dues. Additionally, in 2014, major unions gave more than $680,000 to Al Sharpton’s tax-indebted nonprofit, the National Action Network, and more than $108,000 to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. And at least 13 major unions gave member dues to environmental organizations, including Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action Committee and the League of Conservation Voters. In total, 16 green groups received more than $4 million in union-dues cash in 2014 alone.
    This is America. Government workers should be allowed to choose for themselves whether or not they want to support these causes. Unfortunately, as things currently stand, rank-and-file union members and non-union government employees who pay dues have very little control over their own money once it is in the hands of union bosses. But, hopefully, that’s about to change.
    In addition to the political argument made by Gov. Rauner and others that imposing fair share fees is bad policy, there is a growing sentiment that fair share fees are unconstitutional. Recently, the Supreme Court has indicated that it is poised to reverse its prior decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and strike down fair share fee clauses under the First Amendment. And on the last day of the 2014 Term, with the Quinn v. Harris ruling, the Court granted certiorari in a case presenting just that opportunity.
    The tides of public and legal opinion regarding fair share fees are turning very quickly, and with good reason. But the union bosses are not going to relinquish their power to confiscate these fees easily. Because without that power, their ability to influence political outcomes via the Democratic Party will be greatly impaired.
    So we must fight. We must support challenges to corrupt public sector union practices, including the collection of fair share fees. And we must win. So that Illinois can finally break free from the ongoing political spoils system in which public sector unions and the corrupt politicians they support are the exclusive beneficiaries.
    Patrick Hughes is a co-founder of the Illinois Opportunity Project and serves as president of the Liberty Justice Center.

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