Can unions really get workers fired in Illinois?

Can unions really get workers fired in Illinois?

Without Right to Work, the answer is yes.

Because Illinois is not a Right-to-Work state, unions can require employers to fire workers who do not pay the unions at their worksites.

But some unions are misleading people into thinking this isn’t the case.

On Dec. 14, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, or IUOE, whose jurisdiction covers the newly Right-to-Work village of Lincolnshire, tweeted: “Illinois Policy Institute says workers can be fired for refusing to join or pay dues to a union. FALSE.”

But the IUOE’s own contract with the Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association, or MARBA, says otherwise.

Article I, section 4 of the agreement makes clear that employers must fire workers who do not pay dues or fees to the union, stating:

“All Employees who are members of the Union shall maintain their membership in the Union as a condition of continued employment. Any Employee who fails to become a member of the Union or fails to maintain his membership therein, or non-member who fails to pay required permit fees in accordance with the foregoing shall forfeit his right of employment, and the Employer shall immediately discharge such Employee upon receipt of written notice from the Union provided, however, that the foregoing shall be strictly interpreted, construed and applied in accordance with the applicable provision or provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended.”

Similar, if less forceful, language appears in the IUOE’s collective bargaining agreement with the city of Chicago, which reads:

“Each employee who on the effective date of this Agreement is a member of the Union, and each employee who becomes a member after that date, shall, as a condition of employment, maintain his/her membership in the Union during the term of this Agreement. Any present employee who is not a member of the Union shall, as a condition of employment, be required to pay a fair share (not to exceed the amount of Union dues) of the cost of the collective bargaining process and contract administration.”

While less strident in sound than the language in the IUOE-MARBA contract, “condition of employment” means that a worker needs to pay a union to keep his job. If the worker under the IUOE-city of Chicago contract does not pay, he “forfeit[s] his right of employment,” as the IUOE contract with MARBA expressly states.

Thanks to Lincolnshire’s new Right-to-Work ordinance, most private-sector workers in the village will no longer be forced to pay dues or fees to the IUOE or any other union as soon as the collective-bargaining agreements they are under expire.

Furthermore, all government workers in Illinois and across the country may gain this same right later this year if the U.S. Supreme Court sides with plaintiffs in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case. In January 2016, the Supreme Court will hear arguments stating that requiring the payment of dues or fees to a government-worker union is a violation of a government employee’s First Amendment right to refrain from supporting political speech with which he or she disagrees. The result may be Right to Work for all government workers in the nation.

In the meantime, however, in states and locales without Right to Work, the short answer to the question of whether a union can get a worker fired for not paying it is simple: yes.

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