CHESTER, IL (KFVS) - The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision on Wednesday, June 27 in the Janus v AFSCME case.
The decision says government workers cannot be forced to pay labor union fees.
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner was in Washington, D.C. for the session.
The Governor said that the decision will help combat the conflicts of interest created when government union leaders negotiate with politicians they help elect.
"For decades, Illinois workers have been forced to pay partial union dues against their will," Rauner said. "The practice infringed on the constitutional rights of public sector workers who were asked to give up their First Amendment rights as a condition of employment. This decision fairly reinstates those rights."
In 2015, just after taking office, Gov. Rauner issued an executive order to protect workers' freedom of speech and initiated the lawsuit against AFSCME arguing compulsory fees for non-union government workers were unconstitutional.
The suit was later taken up by Illinois child support specialist Mark Janus and the Liberty Justice Center and resulted in Wednesday's Supreme Court decision.
Before the ruling, paying union fees was compulsory whether a government worker was a union member or not, and whether a worker agreed with the union's political agenda or not.
According to Gov. Rauner's office, the fees average more than 80 percent of full union dues. The high court's decision means state workers can no longer be forced to pay union fees if they choose not to be a member of the union.
Rauner said the State of Illinois will stop withholding "fair share" fees from non-union member paychecks. He also said that Illinois state workers will be notified of the Janus ruling on Wednesday and be given an opportunity to modify their union status.
According to the governor's office, the average state employee union member in Illinois pays more than $900 a year in fees.
U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth released the following statement:
Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie also released a statement on the ruling on Wednesday:
The high court heard arguments in February on the case.
Randall Clover is a government worker at Chester Mental Health and considered himself a happy union member for 19 years.
"I want to be a union member, I want my voice heard," said Clover. "I want to be a part of a group that says we want to be heard and respected."
Clover is a part of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and the President of the Local 424 chapter.
"The union gives you a voice, it gives you a right to respected as an employee and the right to earn a decent wage and to be able to live," he said.
But the issue of paying union fees is at the heart of Janus vs. AFSCME.
Attorneys for Mark Janus argued the state should not force workers to pay union fees to hold a government job, but Clover disagreed and said having union support makes his job safer.
"The main issue here is the safety," said Clover. "My concern is at my facility and the right to speak up and have our voices heard."
Clover said the working with criminals can be dangerous. Back in September of 2017, there was a reported incident to staff at Chester Mental Health. Clover felt being a part of the union is helpful during times like that.
Mailee Smith, a staff attorney at Illinois Policy Institute, explained the significance of the Janus case.
"This case is a landmark case because, for 40 years, government workers have not been able to have a choice in where their hard earned money goes," she said. "This is about restoring that choice and giving them an option whether or not to support the union."
Smith said that does not align with the Constitution.
"Mr. Janus is arguing that these forced fees violate his first amendment right to speech and association," said Smith.
With more than 370,000 government workers in the state of Illinois, the direction of this case could have a major impact. Randall Clover hopes the union prevails.
"As we go through this battle with the Janus case, that the membership understands what could be at stake and we all need to stand up and fight," Clover concluded.
The court's decision will not just be felt in Illinois, but across America. It is estimated that there are 5 million public employee union members in 22 states who could be affected by Wednesday's decision.