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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.

Business

Court upholds Illinois nuclear power subsidy law

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A federal appellate court ruling upheld Illinois’ law directing hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to nuclear plants and other green energy incentives.

The ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals says that Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, a 2016 law providing Zero Emissions Credits to Exelon, the owner of several nuclear plants in the state, doesn’t unfairly manipulate the multi-state energy market that establishes rates.

The challenge was brought by the Electric Power Supply Association, a trade group for power plant owners that includes Dynegy, which has since been acquired by Vistra Energy. Vistra owns coal-fired plants in Illinois. Vistra wasn’t immediately available to respond to the ruling or say whether it will appeal the decision.

In Vistra’s lawsuit, the company claimed the subsidies allowed Exelon to submit unfairly low rates in the wholesale auction.

The panel ruled that “the Commerce Clause does not cut the states off from legislating on all subjects relating to the health, life, and safety of their citizens…”

Exelon released a statement Friday saying the company was “pleased to see that the Seventh Circuit Court affirmed dismissal of the ZEC complaint, thus supporting the continued operation of Illinois’ ZEC program and the clean, resilient and affordable electricity nuclear power provides.”

State Rep. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, who has two nuclear plants in her district, said it was good for clean and renewable energy.

“Many states are trying to figure out what to do to keep the nuclear plants online,” she said. “This opinion that just came out sounds like a step in the right direction.”

Both sides had said Illinois jobs were on the line as they looked to influence lawmakers.

Exelon warned in 2016 that it would likely have to close two Illinois plants, one near Clinton and another near the Quad Cities, and cut 1,500 jobs if the subsidies weren’t signed into law.

Dynegy said its Illinois-based plants face an uncertain future if the courts upheld the FEJA. This would mean 1,000 jobs in southern Illinois, an area facing a dearth of higher-paying jobs.

The Future Energy Jobs Act will charge utility customers an average of $2 per month over the next decade, sending $236 million to Exelon annually. In turn for the credits, ComEd, Exelon’s energy retailer, would invest in green jobs training and provide discounts to needy ratepayers.

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

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News

S&P: Growing pension costs to force cities to raise taxes, cut services

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S&P Global Ratings is warning that growing public retirement debt is likely going to continue to eat up public funds that would otherwise go to providing services to taxpayers.

In an annual report on America’s 15 largest cities and their public debt, S&P said major cities like Chicago are going to have to cut services as they shift more money to pay down legacy retirement costs. Analysts also expect cities to continue to raise taxes, with all of that new tax revenue going to pay for pensions.

“As we expect these costs to continue to rise in the near term, we likewise expect to see growing pressure on other priority services such as public safety and public works, absent revenue growth from tax hikes or the identification of new revenue streams,” the report said.

Growing pension costs could even make it more difficult for cities to come up with money for infrastructure projects, such as road improvements.

“Any of the major cities that currently face a backlog of deferred capital will only find it more difficult to keep pace with demand for new infrastructure investment, as mounting legacy costs command an ever greater share of budgets,” the report said.

The report describes Chicago as an “outlier” in terms of its 26 percent pension funding levels. The city has raised property taxes multiple times in recent years, most of that money going to pensions. The city is considering borrowing $10 billion to essentially refinance its pension debt using portions of future income as leverage to get better rates.

S&P Analyst Scott Nees expects it to become more pronounced as required contributions increase.

“Those cities that are on the low end of the distribution in terms of pension funding levels will continue to see these costs increase in the future,” he said.

Similar budgetary pressure is apparent in cities across Illinois. The city of Peoria announced more than two dozen layoffs last month. Its annual budget report noted that pension payments are crowding out services. Many more municipalities are raising taxes to pay into the funds.

“I think it ends up being a little bit of a mixture raising new revenue streams and then maybe curbing cost growth that otherwise wouldn’t have emerged if it weren’t for the fact that they didn’t have to cover rising pension costs,” Nees said, adding that Chicago still benefits from its solidly diverse economy.

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

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Business

Rauner declares harvest emergency as stopgap until higher haul limits take effect next year

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an emergency declaration Friday to allow increased weight limits for Illinois agriculture haulers on Illinois roads.

Last month Rauner signed a law allowing permanently increased haul limits for permitted vehicles during harvest season, but that doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1. He said the declaration he signed Friday in Auburn at The Ladage Farm doesn’t have as much to do with the weather as it does with making Illinois farmers more competitive.

“The right answer for the permanent competitiveness of Illinois farmers is to make sure that our truckers and our commodities haulers and our farmers can get their product to market, fast, efficient, cost effectively,” Rauner said. “And 10 percent more weight now here in the fall can be on our commodities truckers going in.”

“That means every ten loads we’d have another load to haul so that’s gonna save us time and wear and tear and makes our harvest much quicker,” Ladage farm operator Brent Ladage said. “It adds up a lot, too.”

Illinois Farm Bureau’s Mark Reichert said the order and new law means trucks won’t have to vary their weights going from Illinois to neighboring states.

“So we’ve kind of mirrored now all of the states around, so there’s kind of an equilibrium now,” Reichert said.

Asked if possible increased wear and tear on local roads is an unfunded mandate on local taxpayers who pay to maintain the roads, Rauner he didn’t see that way.

“No, this is regulatory relief,” Rauner said. “This is cutting mandates, cutting regulations, which I’m all about. Eliminate as many regulations. This is freeing it up. There’s less regulatory restrictions now on our farmers.”

Rauner said fewer trucks on the road also diminishes wear and tear to roads that local taxpayers would have to maintain.

State Rep. Dave Severin, R-Benton, said increased haul limits also is about safety.

“Less vehicles on the road which is very important with school season now going and schools are back in session,” Severin said.

Starting Monday, haulers can request permits for increased limits from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

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

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