Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner

CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday signed an executive order freeing state employees who opt not to join a union from having to pay so-called "fair share" fees out of their paycheck to fund unions' political activities.

Rauner said his decision to sign the order followed a review of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year in Harris v. Quinn that found the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act violated the First Amendment by forcing certain state employees to involuntarily pay fees to a labor union. Rauner said he believes that the similar fair share fee provision of collective bargaining agreements are also unconstitutional.

"Government union bargaining and government union political activity are inexorably linked," Rauner said. "An employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree. That is a clear violation of First Amendment rights - and something that, as governor, I am duty-bound to correct."

The move represents an escalation of Rauner's expected efforts to curtail some union rights. He recently proposed creating local employee empowerment zones that would give local voters the ability to control some collective bargaining issues and decide whether employees want to join a union.

He also wants to free local governments from some rules on project labor agreements and prevailing wage requirements that he argued have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars with savings from more competitive bidding going to fund infrastructure.

In a statement, AFSCME Council 31 executive director Robert Lynch slammed the move.

"Bruce Rauner's scheme to strip the rights of state workers and weaken their unions by executive order is a blatantly illegal abuse of power," she said. "It is crystal clear by this action that the governor's supposed concern for balancing the state budget is a paper-thin excuse that can't hide his real agenda: Silencing working people and their unions who stand up for the middle class."

The executive order could impact about 6,500 employees who currently pay so-called fair share fees. It does not impact employees who wish to remain paying members of a union and fund union activities out of their paycheck, said a Rauner statement.

The state intends to seek a declaratory judgment form the federal courts affirming its position and the governor's office has hired Winston & Strawn to lead the case. Unions are expected to fight the executive order and could file their own lawsuit. The governor's legal team will be led by Winston & Strawn partner and former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb.

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