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U.S. Supreme Court strikes down forced union dues as unconstitutional

Mark Janus, the plaintiff in Janus vs. AFSCME. Photo by Austin Berg | Illinois News Network

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ended the practice of forcing public sector workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mark Janus in his First Amendment lawsuit against the AFSCME Council 31.

The decision means Janus, a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, no longer has to pay what the union calls “fair share” fees for AFSCME’s representation of him.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said forced agency fees are in fact unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds.

“Neither an agency fee nor any other pay­ment to the union may be deducted from a nonmember’s wages, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay,” Alito wrote.

The decision affects about five million public employees in 22 states without right-to-work laws. They now will be able to join Janus in deciding for themselves whether they want to pay union fees. Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania are among the other states that are impacted

Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s appointee to the bench, cast the decisive vote.

In a very similar case in 2016, the Supreme Court deadlocked, 4-4. In that split decision, Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Association, justices appeared ready to overturn a four-decades-old precedent and ban states from requiring a public employee to pay fees to unions who represent them even if the employee doesn’t support the union or want its collective bargaining help. But conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died before he could cast the deciding vote.

Gorsuch replaced Scalia on the bench last year.

In Janus vs. AFSCME, the 10-year Illinois state worker challenged a law that required him to contribute part of his paycheck – $45 a month – to a union he decided not to join and one he disagrees with politically.

Union advocates have said the dues Janus pays to AFSCME are his “fair share” for the collective bargaining on wages, benefits and workplace conditions that the union does on his behalf. Janus countered that, regardless of the amount he is forced to pay, collective bargaining itself is a form of politicking that he shouldn’t have to financially support.

Janus has said from day one of his legal battle that he is not anti-union. He said his First Amendment rights guaranteeing him freedom of association were being violated.

Among the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is the right to assemble. That right has been broadly interpreted to include the rights of Americans to associate, “peaceably,” with whom they want. That also includes the rights of Americans to not associate with those whom they don’t want.

By taking a portion of his paycheck against his will, Janus successfully argued he was being forced to associate with a union whose policies he doesn’t support.

“I’m thrilled that the Supreme Court has restored not only my First Amendment rights, but the rights of millions of other government workers across the country,” Janus said. “So many of us have been forced to pay for political speech and policy positions with which we disagree, just so we can keep our jobs. This is a victory for all of us. The right to say ‘no’ to a union is just as important as the right to say ‘yes.’ Finally our rights have been restored.”

Wednesday’s ruling nullifies a 41-year-old precedent established in Abood vs. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court then upheld union fees. Alito said that opinion was wrong.

“Fundamental free speech rights are at stake. Abood was poorly reasoned,” Alito said. Abood “has led to practical problems and abuse. It is inconsistent with other First AMendment cases and has been undermined by more recent decisions.”

Unions quickly criticized the decision.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Janus v AFSCME was based on a bogus free speech argument,” Paul Shearon, secretary treasurer of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said in a statement. “This politically motivated case brought by Mark Janus, paid for by corporate interests, was designed to undercut the bargaining power of those employed in local and state government. This wasn’t about free speech – this was about silencing workers’ voices.”

Jacob Huebert, Janus’ attorney from the Liberty Justice Center, countered.

“This is the biggest victory for workers’ rights in a generation,” Huebert said in a statement. “The First Amendment guarantees each of us, as individuals, the right to choose which groups we will and won’t support with our money. Today the Supreme Court recognized that no one should be forced to give up that right just to be allowed to work in government. The Court recognized that unions have the right to organize and to advocate for the policies they believe in – but they don’t have a special right to force people to pay for their lobbying. They have to play by the same rules as everyone else.”

Gorsuch was joined in the majority by conservatives Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Alito, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy.

Dissenting were liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

 

Article by Dan McCaleb, the editor of Illinois News Network and the digital hub ILNews.org. He welcomes your comments. Contact Dan at dmccaleb@ilnews.org.

Illinois News Network, publisher of ILNews.org, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility in the state of Illinois. INN is Illinois’ pioneering non-profit news brand, offering content from the statehouse and beyond to Illinoisans through their local media of choice and from their digital hub at ILNews.org. Springfield Daily was granted republishing permission by INN.

Health & Wellness

River-goers beware: Illinois waterways could contain toxic algal blooms

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Courtesy of the Illinois EPA

An organism floating in Illinois’ waterways could mean danger for those looking to beat the heat this week.

The weather conditions have been perfect in the state to create algal blooms in Illinois’ waterways. Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is warning that they look like blue-green oil slicks or spilled paint on the water. The blooms give off a toxin that can be absorbed through the skin, ingested or taken in from mist in the air.

“Individuals with compromised immune systems, the elderly, young children are the ones that are most at risk,” agency spokeswoman Kim Biggs said.

Symptoms of exposure to algal blooms include rashes, hives, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing or wheezing, according to the agency.

The blooms have been found in two parts of the Illinois river near Hennepin and Marseilles, but Biggs said they could be anywhere in the state’s waterways.

“It could be developing anywhere along the river and actually any waterways in Illinois,” she said.

If you or your pet have come into contact with what you think may be blue-green algae, rinse off with fresh water. If symptoms arise, call the Illinois Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. If your pet experiences symptoms that may be a result of exposure, contact your veterinarian.

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org 

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State

Illinois surrounded by states with legal fireworks

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Photo by Greg Bishop | Illinois News Network

The cost of getting fireworks in any of Illinois’ neighboring states depends on what kind of buy-one, get-one sales that fireworks stands are running. In Illinois, the cost of getting fireworks could land you behind bars.

Consumers can only legally use snaps, snakes and sparklers for your Independence Day celebrations in state. Go to any of the neighboring states and you can have your pick of an array of things that go boom like bottle rockets, roman candles and even larger displays worthy of a backyard spectacular.

Iowa legalized fireworks last year for a certain window around specific holidays, including Independence Day.

Justin Bartlett is managing partner of Crossroads Fireworks, which has two locations. His location in Bettendorf, Iowa, right across from Moline, sees about half of its business from Illinoisans.

“We have people come up from Peoria, we had a couple come from Rockford,” Bartlett said. “We have people from really all over this chunk of Illinois who find out, ‘Oh good, you’re here, and you’re way closer.”

Bartlett said it’s not first-time fireworks buyers, it’s people who realized his Bettendorf store is closer to them than stores in Missouri where fireworks also are legal.

In Illinois, possession without a permit from the government of certain fireworks that can be purchased legally in every neighboring state can land you a Class 3 felony, up to $10,000 in fines and up to five years in prison.

Illinois state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said other states are doing well selling to Illinois customers. Rose said his repeated efforts to legalize fireworks and possibly bring in up to $15 million in extra revenue for the state have been thwarted by Sen. President John Cullerton’s opposition to the idea.

“He doesn’t want to trust people to make their own decision,” Rose said. “On the other hand, people have already made the decision to go across state lines anyway, so whatever he’s worried about is already happening.”

Cullerton’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

In 2017, the Illinois State Fire Marshal reported there were 204 fireworks-related injuries and one fatality between June 23 and July 20. That was down from 2016 totals of 240 from the same period the year before.

A representative with the Iowa State Fire Marshal’s office said Iowa doesn’t have a mechanism to collect injury data.

The Missouri state fire marshal’s office didn’t have information immediately available because there’s “no statute requiring reporting of fireworks injuries to the Division of Fire Safety.”

In Indiana, the state department of public health compiles the data and reported 238 firework-related injuries in 2017. The majority were male and more than a third were younger than 18.

In Wisconsin, the state’s public health department says there were 102 emergency department visits with 15 hospitalizations caused by fireworks. The majority were men. A third were under the age of 17.

The National Fire Protection Agency said in 2015 “U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 11,900 people for fireworks-related injuries.” The agency’s website said there’s an average of three deaths a year from structural fires caused by fireworks.

Bartlett asserted most fireworks injuries are likely from “some guy selling it out of his car … they’re not using stuff that they bought at a reputable store.

“You have to so grossly misuse [fireworks] that it’s almost on purpose,” Bartlett said. “There’s a lot of things that people do to get hurt … there are a lot more people killed and injured riding bicycles than there are using fireworks.”

The National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration said there were 840 bicyclists killed in 2016 from motor vehicle crashes.

Ultimately, Rose said it’s about freedom.

“Part of liberty and freedom is being able to do what you want to do in the confines of your own backyard and all of our surrounding states are enjoying those freedoms,” Rose said.

 

Article by Greg Bishop, Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org 

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Education

School district leaders ask Rauner to veto $40,000 teacher pay mandate

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A group of school district leaders is urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to veto a bill that would require a $40,000 starting salary for teachers by 2022.

The Illinois School Management Alliance said the unfunded mandate would result in layoffs, dismissals and program cuts.

Senate Bill 2892 passed both chambers last month. State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, sponsored the bill.

“If we don’t guarantee a salary for a college graduate, we’re not going to get the right folks to go into the teaching profession in the first place,” he said.

Other supporters of the measure said the minimum salary will help attract teachers to Illinois, which some say has a shortage of qualified teachers. The bill would require schools to pay teachers an annual wage of at least $40,000 by the 2022-23 school year. Starting next year, the minimum salary would be $32,076. Once starting salaries hit $40,000 in the 2022-23 school year, the minimum salary rate would continue to increase yearly at the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, subject to review by the General Assembly.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers said on its website that the union “was a vocal advocate” of the bill’s passage.

In a letter sent to Rauner on Friday, the Illinois School Management Alliance asked the governor to veto the bill because it would be a costly mandate.

“Though the increase is phased in, it will be a substantial unfunded mandate on local school districts that will consume much or all of any new funding benefit school districts receive from the commitment to the new evidence-based funding formula,” Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance’s Deanna Sullivan said in the letter provided to Illinois News Network.

The Illinois School Management Alliance represents the state’s associations of School Administrators, School Business Officials, School Boards and Principals Association.

The statewide average salary for teachers in Illinois in 2017 was $64,516, according to the Illinois Report Card. Nationally, the average salary for public school teachers in 2015–16 was $58,064, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

While the bill wouldn’t affect many Chicago and suburban-area school districts, many in southern Illinois would have to increase pay for teachers. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, more than 500 schools would have to increase their beginning pay for teachers with a bachelor’s degree, some by more than $10,000 over the next four years.

Before voting against the bill last month, state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said the minimum salary requirement would force districts to cut other school offerings, like sports.

“Those are the choices that your school officials back home are going to have to deal with if we say, ‘By the way, you’re going to have to pay everyone at least $40,000,’” Righter said.

Sullivan’s letter to the governor echoed that sentiment.

“A top-down approach to mandate a minimum salary for one group of employees within the school setting, without fully funding the increases, will cause layoffs, dismissals, and program cuts across the board in Illinois schools,” the letter said. “Additionally, programs required to meet state and federal education standards will suffer as there will not be enough qualified staff or programming to meet student needs.”

Asked about the issue at two different events last week, Rauner said he wants to see teachers earn more but “get the mandates off from Springfield.”

“We have too many regulations, too many unfunded mandates, too many restrictions on how our teachers teach,” Rauner said in Belleville last week. “Get the mandates off. Get more local control and we’ll have the money to be able to pay our teachers more.”

At a stop in Urbana, Rauner said locally elected school boards should determine how much teachers are paid.

“Let schools run their districts as they see fit,” he said. “Get the mandates off and that will free up resources as well. That’s the way we’ll get more money.”

The bill could be sent to the governor’s desk by the end of this month. Once he has it, Rauner will have 60 days to either change the bill, veto it outright or sign it into law.

The measure passed the Senate with enough votes for a possible override, but didn’t pass the House with the required super majority needed for an override if Rauner were to veto the bill.

Article by Greg Bishop, Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org 

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