9% of Illinois government workers quit unions as more dues spent on politics

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
August 31, 2022

9% of Illinois government workers quit unions as more dues spent on politics

Illinois government unions admit spending very little on representing workers – the core purpose of a union. Maybe that’s why so many government workers are leaving the unions. Now government union bosses want taxpayers to pay for union failures.

Illinois’ self-professed “workers’ rights” advocates don’t put their money where their mouths are.

According to their own reports, Illinois’ government unions spend very little on representing workers – their main purpose.

According to the Department of Labor, "representational activities" are those activities “associated with preparation for, and participation in, the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements and the administration and enforcement of the agreements.”

Instead, government unions prioritize politics, leadership salaries and other union boss priorities over actually representing workers.

To place this in perspective, the Wise Giving Alliance, a project of the Better Business Bureau, maintains a charity should spend at least 65% of its total expenses on program activities. If a union were a typical charity, that would mean it should be spending 65% on representation.

The failure to prioritize government workers could be why they are leaving their unions at such a fast pace. Since 2017, 9% of state and local government workers have opted out of union membership. That includes nearly 10% of public school educators.

Now government unions are trying to force taxpayers to subsidize the work they aren’t doing for their members under the misleadingly named “Workers’ Rights Amendment,” or Amendment 1. If passed by voters on Nov. 8, that amendment would guarantee a potentially endless loop of higher taxes to fund government union bosses’ costly demands.

Government unions are failing their members but don’t want to spend their own money on the workers themselves.

Government workers don’t feel represented by their unions

One common reasons given for leaving union membership: workers don’t feel well represented by their unions. Union leaders’ political agendas and the labor strife created by strikes get in the way of what unions are supposed to be doing.

Benny Durbin, a public works specialist in Arthur, Illinois, had been a member of IBEW. But as Durbin explained, “I just didn’t feel well-represented, or like there was enough support from our union. They didn’t really help us when we went into negotiations. They never really asked us what we wanted.”

“I also didn’t like seeing the union give our money to political figures for their campaign funds. I don’t like that at all. I think that’s a waste of our own money.”

Others, such as Chicago Public Schools teacher Olivia Waldron, were disappointed with union strike behavior or the way unions fought to keep teachers out of school buildings during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Going into the 2020-2021 school year, I saw the lack of humility, class and focus from union leadership. They were no longer advocating for teachers’ essential labor rights but advocating more for a political agenda. And they most certainly were not concerned with the well-being of the students,” Waldron said.

Derrick Crenshaw, a teacher in Glen Ellyn, left his union after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision. “When [Mark] Janus won his Supreme Court case, I felt it was time to move on. I didn’t have anything in common with the national and the local union leadership,” Crenshaw said.

The government union power grab will cost taxpayers

Illinois unions claim their power comes in solidarity. That power is at risk when workers opt out of membership.

Enter Amendment 1: the most extreme government union boss power play in the nation.
Amendment 1 would:

  • grant a “fundamental right” – on par with speech and religion – for government workers to unionize
  • expand bargaining beyond wages and compensation to include broad new subjects not seen in any other state or the National Labor Relations Act
  • prohibit lawmakers, as the people’s representatives, from ever clarifying or limiting those rights
  • ban right to work.

Taken together, these provisions would give union leaders more power than state lawmakers.

The ability of union leaders to override at least 350 state laws by negotiating contrary provisions into union contracts would be permanently enshrined in the Illinois Constitution.

Government unions also would have the perpetual right to call strikes to ensure their demands for such provisions are met – a tactic the Chicago Teachers Union, for one, threatens to use for its social agenda on housing, immigration, “restorative justice,” wealth redistribution and defunding the police.

No other state constitution includes any of these provisions, let alone all four of them.

What Amendment 1 would do: prevent lawmakers from slowing the growth of property taxes, guaranteeing they rise by at least $2,100, including on the private-sector workers proponents misleadingly claim will be helped by the amendment.

Amendment 1 isn’t about workers. It’s a government union boss attempt to preserve – and catapult – their power over the people of Illinois.

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