09/04/2012 by The State Journal-Register
There is a river of dirty money flowing in Illinois. The river flows from taxpayers to government unions. Then the unions take that money and use it to buy political influence, make government more costly and less efficient and prepare for a strike against taxpayers.
Illinois’ public sector labor law is filled with conflicts of interest and perverse incentives. Among the worst features is the way that government unions are funded. On the surface, it appears government unions receive the bulk of their funds from dues-paying union members. In actuality, it’s employers – and by extension, taxpayers – who provide the money.
When it comes to paying union dues, government workers have little say in the matter. The typical contract will provide that all workers must join the union and pay regular dues. Workers can refuse to join, but they still have to pay to the union an “agency fee.”
In both cases, the employer typically deducts the same amount from employee paychecks and transfers the money to the union. (Employees can reduce the amount slightly by invoking “Beck rights,” but the process is cumbersome and involves a serious risk of angering the union.)
So it is governments who sign the contracts, and governments who guarantee and collect the money that flows to unions. Rank-and-file union workers are never asked if they would like to deduct money from their paycheck or be represented at the bargaining table.
Under this arrangement, taxpayer money is funneled to big labor through this backdoor union tax.
There’s a lot of money involved in this setup. According to the Illinois comptroller, during fiscal year 2011 the state collected and turned over to unions $46.5 million. That’s about $650 for each of the approximately 70,000 unionized state employees in Illinois.
Across state and local government, there are more than 300,000 dues-paying, unionized workers in Illinois.
The Wall Street Journal has reported the average AFSCME dues are nearly $400 annually. Chicago teachers pay upwards of $1,000. So to estimate how much taxpayer money is spent annually on union dues, let’s use the low estimate of $400 per government worker.
That comes out to $120 million of taxpayer-guaranteed funds, or roughly $37 per household of four.
What did the non-government union family get for its money? Well, for starters there’s an extensive political and lobbying machine. In 2011, Illinois affiliates of AFSCME, the Illinois Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees all spent at least $1 million apiece on lobbying and politics. That figure doesn’t include spending by their federal and local affiliates on lobbying and politics.
Then there are contract demands: higher wages that drive up the cost of government now, expensive pensions and health care that create debts for the next generation, and restrictive work rules that make it harder to run schools and other government agencies.
But perhaps the worst use of taxpayer money by government unions are strike threats, such as the one currently being leveled by the Chicago Teachers Union.
From publicity to printing picket signs, CTU has been able to use taxpayer-guaranteed money for every aspect of strike preparation. Even if the union never walks, taxpayer money is being used to pressure the Chicago School Board into making concessions during contract negotiations. These are not the services Chicago residents have in mind when they send tax dollars to Chicago Public Schools.
A revamping of Illinois’ labor law is long overdue. Perhaps it’s time to put a dam on the river of money that goes to government unions.