Illinois House passes bill to make it harder for public employees to leave unions, recover fees

Illinois House passes bill to make it harder for public employees to leave unions, recover fees

SB 1784 would hurt workers trying to stop paying union dues, give unions greater access to them and their personal information.

The Illinois House of Representatives voted 93-23 on Oct. 29 to limit public employees’ free speech rights and freedom to distance themselves from a union under their newly won rights resulting from the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision.

In Janus, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government labor unions are inherently political and that public employees could not be forced to subsidize that political speech through compulsory fees just to keep their jobs. Public employees can still choose to be union members, but the Janus decision allows employees who resign union membership to stop paying fees to a union.

Illinois Senate Bill 1784, however, creates hurdles that make it more difficult for employees to opt out of union membership, to stop paying dues, or to gain information about resigning union membership. It puts a gag on employers about quitting a union while giving unions face-to-face time with new employees and the cell phone numbers and email addresses of all public employees, updated at least monthly.

The bill was originally about the state ethics laws when passed March 13 by the Illinois Senate. It was changed significantly to include the union policies, so it heads back to the Senate which must concur with the changes. State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, sponsored the changes in the House bill.

Among other things, SB 1784:

  • Gives public sector unions the right to meet with new hires for up to one hour during working hours. It does not provide that a new hire can refuse the orientation and prohibits the employer from providing any information that could discourage membership.
  • Requires public employers to provide worker information – including names, home addresses, and any personal email or cell phone numbers the employer might have on file – to the union at least once a month, regardless of the employees’ membership status or preferences.
  • Exempts worker information from Freedom of Information Act requests, making it harder for employees to receive information about opting out of the union, about their rights or from being offered information that balances union views.
  • Allows unions to restrict the window of time that public employees can exercise their rights. As few as 10 days out of every year would be deemed “reasonable” under the bill. The bill allows any dues authorization to be automatically renewed if the employee does not request an end to the deductions within the designated window. These windows are often tied to the date an employee signed their union card, and employees might not even know when their window to stop paying begins or ends.
  • Gives the sole authority for processing requests to stop paying dues to the union itself rather than the employer, who actually processes payroll checks.
  • Attempts to cut off litigation – even pending cases – for workers seeking refunds of money paid to the unions before the Supreme Court ruled the money was unconstitutionally collected. The cases revolve around certain fee payment and informed dues payment consent issues that have arisen in the wake of the Janus case.

Public employees are ill-served by SB 1784, which would restrict the exercise of their constitutional rights to distance themselves from unions and their politics. It would empower unions to indoctrinate new employees and call workers’ cell phones. It tries to legislate after the fact by stopping litigation to recover workers’ money that should never have been taken from them, which is sure to draw court challenges.

If the bill reaches Pritzker’s desk, he should oppose it. Public employees deserve more information about their rights, not to be made a captive audience with limited information and options.

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