SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said Wednesday he wants to banish a requirement that non-union public school teachers pay union fees — the Republican’s latest swipe at public sector unions he blames for worsening the state’s financial woes.
Rauner already has sued in federal court to stop what he calls “forced union dues collection” from state government workers, an issue that sent unions to state court in their own action against the move.
Speaking in downtown Springfield, the Republican said he’s had support, even from state workers who are union members. He contended that teachers have asked him whether the executive order he signed in February to bar collection of “fair share fees” from non-union state employees could be extended to the schoolhouse.
“I believe it should apply to teachers and we’ll deal with that later,” Rauner said.
Teachers unions quickly lashed out at the idea, calling it illegal and a slap at instructors who “advocate for their students.”
Beginning his 101st day in office, Rauner also explained to capital-city civic and business leaders that he is trying to tackle seemingly tangential issues while also wrestling with multibillion-dollar deficits because the two go hand in hand.
Long critical of public employee unions’ influence on government, Rauner’s executive order directed state agencies which answer to him to hold up the fair-share fees non-union employees pay by law to support collective bargaining, grievance procedures and other costs they incur for representing all employees, not just union members. The fees paid by 6,500 non-union workers are less than union-member dues.
Unions sued the governor in circuit court to halt the action and Rauner entered a court agreement this month to stop holding up the fees until the issue is litigated.
Rauner declined to elaborate on how he would approach teachers’ union fees when asked by The Associated Press as he left the event sponsored by the Citizens Club of Springfield. Later in East Peoria, he softened his stance, saying he’s confident he’ll win the state-worker fee issue in court and that a judicial decision “could have broader implications to all government employees and taxpayer-funded entities just like schools.”
The Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association, each of which represent more than 100,000 teachers and others, quickly derided Rauner’s idea.
“This is just another reckless attempt to take away teachers’ voice and ability to advocate for their students,” IFT spokeswoman Aviva Bowen said, “and it does nothing to address our state’s real challenges.”
“We’re surprised that Gov. Rauner would come out against local control of public schools,” IEA president Cinda Klickna said in a statement. “ ... Teachers are the experts on what will work in our schools and what will help children learn. It might displease the governor, but we won’t be silent.”
Rauner is pushing back against union influence on several fronts. He’s also proposed setting up “right-to-work” zones around the Prairie State in which communities could vote down forced unionization. It’s possible a right-to-work zone could also bar fair-share fees for teachers.
The bold moves in a strong union state have some, including Republicans, scratching their heads while the elephant in the Capitol remains a budget deficit that could reach $6 billion next year.
“People say to me, ‘Bruce, stop talking about all that government-union stuff and the cost of government, the insiders, just balance the budget,’” Rauner said. “And I say, ‘Guys, how much we spend is determined by how we spend it.’”