- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Home day care workers in Illinois are seeking a refund of millions of dollars in past payments in a federal lawsuit recently filed in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a state requirement for non-union home health workers to pay fair-share union fees.

The class-action lawsuit was brought by home day care owners Laura Baston of Casey and Sandy Winner of Jacksonville and names Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois & Indiana as defendants. It comes as the first-term Republican governor aggressively aims to curtail labor unions’ political influence.

The lawsuit says Illinois should repay what the conservative Illinois Policy Institute estimates was as much as $10 million in annual withholding of “agency fees” that were deducted from reimbursements for private contractors who cared for low-income children eligible to receive state support. The fees, which are not supposed to be used for political activity, had been collected since 2005 under an executive order by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June 2014 that the union dues, which cover the costs of contract negotiations and grievance disputes, could not be collected from people who provided in-home care for people with disabilities who didn’t want to join the state employees’ union. Soon after, the administration of Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat and Rauner’s predecessor, stopped collecting the fees from child care providers - at the policy institute’s request.

Baston and her attorneys declined comment Wednesday. Officials with the governor’s office and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which is representing Rauner, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

SEIU spokesman James Muhammad called the class-action suit a politically motivated effort to weaken a union that has won better wages and working conditions for its members.

“The lawsuit … is doing the same thing in the courtroom that Gov. Rauner himself is doing at the bargaining table - demanding that workers give up their voice in a race to the bottom in wages, benefits and protections,” he said.

A status hearing in the lawsuit, which was filed in mid-August in U.S. District Court in Chicago, is scheduled for Oct. 15. The presiding federal judge granted a request by attorneys for Rauner seeking more time to file their answer to the complaint.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments later this year in a similar case brought by California teachers challenging a state requirement that non-union members pay fair-share fees.

In a separate federal suit, a judge in May dismissed Rauner as a plaintiff in a case over forced fees paid by non-union state workers who are nonetheless represented by their union bargaining units. Rauner had also sought to collect those dues and keep them in a separate escrow account pending the legal fight.

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Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at https://twitter.com/azagier

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