Education News

Meet the man behind Janus, the Supreme Court case that threatens educators, working people

by Félx Pérez; image courtesy of Adrian Tawfik

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow in Janus vs. AFSCME, Council 31, a case that threatens the freedom of educators to come together and fight for better schools and resources for their students need and for working people to advocate for decent pay, affordable health care and vibrant and safe communities.

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The landmark case is galvanizing people across the country. Yesterday, tens of thousands of people in more than two dozen cites — including San Diego, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Miami, Detroit, St. Paul, MN, New York City, Columbus, OH, Philadelphia, Memphis, TN, and Chicago — participated in the Working People’s Day of Action, demanding an end to the rigged economy.

Largely unnoticed, however, is the man who set Janus in motion. But in an article in The New York Times, Randy Clover, president of a union local in Illinois and a Republican precinct leader who voted for President Trump, said, “The case was started by [Gov. Bruce Rauner] to destroy unions. It’s trying to diminish the protections that unions have for their members.”

Rauner, the billionaire first-term governor of Illinois, attacked public service workers immediately after taking office. He championed a bill to permit non-union members who share in the wages, benefits and protections that have been negotiated in a collectively bargained contract not to pay their fair share for the cost of those negotiations. In his first year in office, Rauner traveled across the state pitching his right-to-work proposal. His bill wasn’t able to garner a single vote in the state House of Representatives, going down 0-72.

Rauner then filed a federal lawsuit on his own behalf to bar the collection of fair share fees by public service unions. A federal judge ruled that Rauner could not bring this action because he was not himself an employee paying fair share fees.The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which has close ties to the Koch brothers and includes four Koch associates as members of its litigation team, and the Liberty Justice Center were able to carry the case forward by planting plaintiffs as stand-ins for Rauner in the lawsuit. The district court dismissed the case. The plaintiffs asked the lower court to fast-track their appeal and rule against them in order to more quickly get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rauner, who’s involved in a tossup race for re-election this November, is nothing if not determined. Dubbed the “worst Republican governor in America” by a conservative magazine, Rauner vetoed another education funding bill in January, demanding that more private schools be given access to public money in the form of education tax credits, or vouchers. The veto, according to the state Board of Education, caused “further disruption and confusion for all 852 school districts. He pushed the state into a two-year budget impasse, during which more than $1 billion was not paid out to school districts, public colleges and universities statewide announced layoffs, social service agencies shut down, construction projects stalled, and businesses were owed billions for goods and services provided to the state.

According to Illinois Working Together, a coalition of labor, faith and community groups, Rauner’s stance hurt residents.

Public colleges and universities statewide have announced layoffs, social service agencies are shutting down, construction projects have stalled, and businesses are owed billions for goods and services provided to the state. Rauner is pushing policies that will lower the quality of life for all Illinoisans, especially those who depend on a weekly paycheck.

Rauner’s disrespectful posture toward educators is longstanding. While working as a private equity executive before becoming governor, Rauner said that half of Chicago Public Schools’ teachers “are virtually illiterate” and half of the city’s principals are “incompetent.”

Rauner’s budget address this month was panned by educators. Kathi Griffin, teacher and president of the Illinois Education Association, said:

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