Attorney: Governor shouldn't take credit
Just days before U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a key labor relations case emanating from Illinois, the head of an organization representing the plaintiff is asking Gov. Bruce Rauner to quit “falsely” taking credit for the case, and to quit making it a political issue.
A Rauner spokesman said that to accuse the governor of not being involved in the case is to rewrite history.
The case is that of Mark Janus, an Illinois state worker from Springfield who said it violates his free speech rights to be forced to pay dues to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees when he doesn’t think AFSCME represents his interests. Arguments in the case are set for Monday in Washington, D.C.
AFSCME argues that what are called “fair share” dues pay for union protections to all employees in a bargaining unit.
“I am writing to request that you immediately stop misrepresenting the case and your role in it in public appearances and in the media,” wrote Patrick Hughes of Hinsdale, president of the Liberty Justice Center, in a letter to Rauner.
Hughes said the case is “not about right versus left, Democrats versus Republicans, or union jobs being better or worse than non-union jobs. Janus is about restoring government workers’ right to decide for themselves whether to support a union at their workplace. And it is about more than Illinois. It is deeply personal to millions of American workers in almost two dozen states.”
The letter notes that Rauner has cited the case as key in achieving his goal of allowing public workers to avoid paying unions.
Hughes said the problem is that while Rauner initiated the case by issuing an executive order in 2015 to halt collection of union dues from nonmembers like Janus – a move disallowed by courts – a federal district court dismissed the governor from the case that year, and “since then you have played no role in it.”
Officials from several other states filed briefs to support the lawsuit, Hughes added, but Rauner did not do so.
Hughes said Janus is represented in the case by the Liberty Justice Center and its partners at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
Rauner has also wrongly claimed to be involved with the village of Lincolnshire’s court case that is trying to enforce a local right-to-work ordinance, Hughes said
“But you have never had anything to do with that case, either,” Hughes wrote, and the Liberty Justice Center is representing Lincolnshire free of charge.
Early in his term, Rauner urged cities to pass right-to-work ordinances – he called them “employee empowerment zones,” where people could decide whether they want to join a union.
“Claiming involvement in a case and then speaking unsolicited on behalf of those actually charged with winning the case is irresponsible and grossly misleading,” Hughes said.
“Within weeks of taking office in 2015, Governor Rauner used executive action and began a lawsuit to protect the First Amendment rights of state employees,” said Will Allison, spokesman for the Rauner campaign. “While the lawsuit was eventually carried out by Mark Janus, the governor formed the cornerstone of this action. To say otherwise is simply a rewrite of history.”
The players in all of this are related in interesting ways. The Liberty Justice Center began as a project of the Illinois Policy Institute and still shares offices with the institute in Chicago. But it is now “an entirely separate organization with an entirely separate board,” and Hughes has authority to make executive decisions.
John Tillman, CEO of the policy institute, is also on the Liberty Justice Center’s board.
And Tillman, Hughes and radio host and GOP activist Dan Proft co-founded the Illinois Opportunity Project — where Proft and Tillman don’t now have formal roles, Hughes said.
Illinois Opportunity Project sponsors a weekly radio show called Illinois Rising featuring Proft and Hughes. The Illinois Radio Network offers that program to stations on its network. The network is now part of American Media Unlimited — and Tillman is secretary of that that entity. Proft supports Ives for governor.