CHARLESTON -- Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday denied claims of misleading state employees following the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week on public unions.
"I don't think that's reasonable," the governor said of the claims before a question-and-answer session with local business leaders in Charleston.
The Supreme Court last week ruled, by a 5-4 decision, that public employees can't be forced to pay fees to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, The Associated Press reported.
This decision is expected to financially weaken public unions, and hours after the ruling last week, the Department of Central Management Services sent state employees an email explaining the court decision, according to Chicago's WGN-9. A state website was also created to explain the ruling and what it means for state employees.
Following this communication blast by Rauner's administration, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) officials called the email and website "misleading" and alleged Rauner is using government funds to encourage people to leave the public unions.
"What we did is just let every state employee know the ruling and what their rights are under the ruling," Rauner said.
Rauner saw the move as a way "to make sure the everybody is fully informed" of the ruling.
AFSCME does not agree.
“The governor is suggesting to remain a union member, and most state employees are union members and intend to remain union members, that they have to actually go on the governor’s website and opt-in,” ACFSME official Mike Newman told WGN-9. “And that is absolutely not true. They have authorized dues deduction already and said they want to be union members. They do not have to do anything at all to remain union members.”
According to WGN-9, the email in question said, “Effective immediately, the state will stop deducting fair share fees from paychecks of state employees who are not union members. … Under the law, a bargaining unit employee can opt-in or opt-out of a union at any time.”
The message links to a site where union members are told they can notify their human resources department if they leave the union, WGN-9 reported.
“This has been the governor's agenda from Day 1,” Newman said in the report. “It’s a personal ideological agenda. It doesn’t belong on the state email system. It’s not appropriate to use state resources for that purpose.”
Rauner also affirmed his support for the ruling Monday, saying it is an issue of First Amendment freedoms and not one designed to cripple public unions like AFSCME, which has been at loggerheads with the governor for years. He noted that this ruling does not change whether or not the two parties will be at an impasse.
"It is about giving freedom of speech, freedom of choice, to everyone in government," Rauner said. "Anything a union does is political, so forcing someone to pay in any dues at all is basically forced political speech."
Rauner said his interests are not "anti-union" but are to quash conflicts of interest in state government. He said these unions are contributing to campaigns for public officials that will end up having a hand in the contract negotiations.
"Other (political groups that finance campaigns) are not negotiating contracts," the governor said. "Across America, businesses that contract with the government are not allowed to make campaign contributions to those government politicians... we make that illegal for business but we say it is OK for a government union leader? There is no difference."
Rauner visited Charleston to meet with select business leaders, of both big and small businesses, in a private meeting closed to the press Monday. The meeting was said to be a Q & A session.
Early in the day, the event was to be open to the press, but that status was later changed, with officials citing miscommunication among organizers.