Suburban teachers unions: Supreme Court ruling will hurt bargaining ability

  • Gov. Bruce Rauner, right, accompanied by plaintiff Mark Janus, left, speaks outside the Supreme Court in Washington Wednesday after the court rules in a setback for organized labor that states can't force government workers to pay union fees.

    Gov. Bruce Rauner, right, accompanied by plaintiff Mark Janus, left, speaks outside the Supreme Court in Washington Wednesday after the court rules in a setback for organized labor that states can't force government workers to pay union fees. associated press

Updated 6/28/2018 7:36 AM

Suburban teachers union representatives say Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing nonmembers of public employee unions to opt out of paying "fair share" dues will hurt members' collective voice and power.

Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, called the decision "an attack on public education."


"We are disappointed, but not surprised, by today's Supreme Court decision that does not allow unions like ours to collect fees from nonmembers who benefit from the union's work," Griffin said.

The 5-4 decision in the Janus vs. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees case favoring Mark Janus, a 65-year-old Springfield child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, means nonunion government workers can't be required to pay "fair share" dues to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining.

"Let's be clear," Griffin said. "The goal of the people who supported this legal case, including Governor Rauner, is to try to silence IEA, NEA (National Education Association), local associations and other public employee unions. They want to stop us from using our collective voice to advocate for our students, for ourselves and for public education. They will fail."

About 3 percent of the IEA's 135,000 members are fair share fee payers who contribute regular dues to their local unions minus the yearly $30 political activity donation that members pay. Fair share fees can be used for collective bargaining, including on working conditions, benefits, salary, contract issues and legal protection, but not for lobbying efforts, IEA spokeswoman Bridget Shanahan said.

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The IEA spends about $1.8 million a year on lobbying derived from membership dues.

Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center, which represented Janus, called the decision a major victory for First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association for more than 5 million public school teachers, first responders and other government workers nationwide.

The National Education Association -- the nation's biggest union, with more than 3 million teachers -- said it fears losing about 200,000 members this year and possibly 100,000 more next year, The Washington Post reported. It, along with other public-sector unions, has worked to aggressively recruit and retain members, sometimes by having them sign pledge cards and providing professional development for new teachers.

Lily Eskelsen García, the union's president, said her union is preparing to cut about $28 million from its budget and about 40 people from its 400-person staff, the Post reported.

A spokeswoman for the union representing roughly 2,500 employees of Elgin Area School District U-46 said the financial impact of the ruling is unknown. Roughly 100 employees at the state's second-largest school district are fair share fee payers to the union.


"We want to rally our members," Elgin Teachers Association President Barb Bettis said, echoing IEA's sentiment of getting back to the basics.

Some teachers are more concerned about the impact of losing strength at the bargaining table versus dues from nonmembers.

"For some across the country, it turns into immediate gratification of union dues back in your paycheck versus the long-term benefit of being part of a collective voice," said Erica Bray Parker, who teaches social studies at Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream.

Parker is a member of the Glenbard Education Association representing roughly 500 certified staff members and an IEA region chairwoman.

"We have a very collaborative, good working relationship with the administration," she said, adding some of the things the union has lobbied for are iPads for all students and fair working conditions with equitable pay.

"We're in a state that believes in the power and strength of unions as beneficial. It's about not having the ability to have a voice. We are angry," she said. "Why is weakening public unions an issue that needs to be challenged?"

With the court's ruling, nonmembers who don't pay fair share fees would still benefit from union representation per state law.

"They will get the benefits of our contract that we negotiate for our members," Shanahan said. "We're still interpreting some of the ruling. We don't know how many people will drop out."

Shanahan said the ruling has strengthened the union's resolve to reconnect with its membership and better represent them. Membership dues increasing is not the larger concern; rather leaders are worried about the quality of services the union can provide, she said.

"We believe this case is only going to make the IEA stronger," she said. "We are ready and prepared for it. We're not going to stop fighting for our students and for public education."

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