Illinois labor leaders and community allies gathered from all over the state on Friday as the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations held a special forum entitled, Janus and the Future of Labor in Illinois. For those who are unfamiliar, “Janus” refers to the current Supreme Court case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 31. In this case, Mark Janus, who is a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, argues that he has a First Amendment right not to pay anything to the union that bargains on his behalf (AFSCME), despite the union continuing to bargain on his behalf.
David Amerson, of UIUC’s Labor Education Program, reminded leaders and allies to make no mistake about the money and power behind this ideological court case originally started by Governor Bruce Rauner in 2015. The $45 million dollars poured into lawyers and amicus briefs arguing against AFSCME have come largely from foundations and institutes funded by the anti-union State Policy Network (SPN) in hopes of casting a large blow to public-sector unions across the nation.
President-Business Manager James M. Sweeney gave a passionate greeting to attendees, telling the labor leaders and allies who filled the Countryside hall that Local 150 plans to “go down swinging” no matter how much money anti-union billionaires put up against us. Local 150 Public Sector Senior Counsel Ken Edwards, with Local 150 Associate General Counsel James Connolly Jr. and IIIFFC Counsel Joseph Sweeney gave a presentation on Local 150’s efforts to fight back. Edwards stated that Local 150 is preparing for a decision against unions from the Supreme Court as soon as this June, which would elevate a union’s public sector bargaining to free and protected speech, “opening a pandora’s box of first amendment challenges.”
Edwards first noted Local 150’s federal lawsuit against Governor Bruce Rauner that challenges portions of state law requiring unions to provide representational services to non-dues paying members. Connolly followed up by clarifying that while Local 150 is not advocating for giving up status as exclusive bargaining representatives, “If they have the right not to associate with us, then we have the right not to associate with them.”
Edwards also discussed the “opening of the floodgates” for taxpayer lawsuits like the lawsuit filed against the Village of Lincolnshire. Local 150 teamed up with member Dixon O’Brien in a federal lawsuit against Lincolnshire, demanding a refund of the portion of O’Brien’s taxes that have been used to fund the Illinois Municipal League (IML), which uses that funding to actively lobby for reducing pensions and limiting collective bargaining, against O’Brien’s economic interests and political beliefs.
Local 150 also filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), which thousands of public-sector members participate in, based on its lobbying activities as well as the lobbying of companies that IMRF invests in. Because participants are statutorily required to pay into the IMRF and have no choice over the investment strategy, they are forcibly funding lobbying that, in many cases, violates their own beliefs and best interests.
The final lawsuit Edwards discussed was filed by IUOE Locals 139 and 420 in Wisconsin, challenging a 2011 law signed by Governor Scott Walker restricting public employee collective bargaining rights. The lawsuit claims that the protected free speech of Locals 139 and 420 is violated by the now infamous Act 10.
After reviewing the lawsuits Local 150 has filed to fight back against the upcoming Janus decision and answering attendees’ questions, Edwards addressed the elephant in the room with a simple remark: “I get it, these lawsuits are a little bit controversial. You know how I know? Because people called me and yelled at me. But that’s okay, because I’m a big boy and I can take it.”
“We don’t have all the answers,” he concluded, “at all, by any means, but we are trying, and it’s just that simple.”