International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150 (“IUOE”)—a labor union in Illinois—filed suit earlier this year to challenge the state’s exclusive representation statutes. Like many other states’ laws, Illinois law deems a labor organization representing a majority of public employees their exclusive representative.1 As exclusive representatives, these labor unions owe a duty of fair representation to the entire bargaining unit, including union nonmembers.2 This means, for instance, that unions must represent nonmembers in collective bargaining and grievance/arbitration proceedings or potentially face unfair labor practice charges.

IUOE and its local president, James Sweeney, argue that Illinois’ exclusive representation statute compels unions to speak on behalf of nonmembers and is thus a violation of plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights:

If, however, it violates the First Amendment right of a non-member to be compelled to pay fees to the union that is required by law to provide representation and services, it equally violates the right of the union and its members to require them to use their money to speak on behalf of non-members.

Third Amended Complaint for Declaratory Relief at 4, Sweeney v. Raoul, No. 1:18-cv-01362 (N.D. Ill. filed Feb. 2, 2019).

The Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31 last year that forcing union nonmembers to pay fees to a public-sector union is a violation of nonmembers’ First Amendment rights. Plaintiffs in Sweeney believe the reasoning in Janus extends to the situation of exclusive representatives being forced to use their money to speak on behalf of nonmembers who are now, post-Janus, paying nothing to the union for its representation.

In February, U.S. District Judge in Sweeney declined to grant state defendants’ motion to dismiss in its entirety, thus allowing the case to proceed. Plaintiffs filed their third amended complaint in March.

1 5 Ill. Comp. Stat. 315/6(c).

2 5 Ill. Comp. Stat. 315/10(b)(1)(ii).