AFSCME blurs the lines between ‘representational’ and ‘political’ spending, to the detriment of fair share payers

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney

/ Labor
April 5, 2017
Government workers in Illinois can opt out of union membership, but they still have to pay fees to the union. Those fees are not supposed to go toward political activities, but a close look at AFSCME’s most recent union report demonstrates how unions use fair share fees for activities most people would consider “political.”

A recent union report the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Council 31 filed demonstrates how unions rope nonmembers into paying for things that appear purely political.

Currently, government workers who don’t want to join a union are still forced to pay something called “fair share fees.” Fair share fees supposedly cover the union’s cost in representing nonmembers in negotiations and other administrative matters. Those fees are not to be used for the union’s political activities.

But unions blur the line between “representational” and “political” activities, meaning fair share payers never really know what they are paying for.

Each year, unions that represent private-sector employees must file a financial report under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. If a union has total annual receipts of $250,000 or more, it must file a particular report called an LM-2. Because AFSCME is a union that 1) represents private-sector employees along with government workers and 2) has receipts that total over $250,000, it is required to file an LM-2.

AFSCME filed its most recent LM-2 March 27, 2017, and several of its “representational” activities look inherently political.

Included in AFSCME’s LM-2 is almost $2 million in advertisements. While AFSCME does not disclose what most of the advertisements were for, it does disclose that almost $35,000 was spent on “Stop Rauner” ads – a cost which appears totally political in nature. Even if a fair share payer supports Gov. Bruce Rauner, he or she was forced to pay for the ads as a “representational” activity by the union.

Another example: AFSCME spent almost $27,000 on “Support State Worker” signs, a veiled political attack on the governor while he negotiated with the union for a new state worker contract. AFSCME and the governor deadlocked in negotiations, and AFSCME is doing everything it can to lock state taxpayers into funding even more extravagant benefits for state workers. AFSCME’s LM-2 also includes a $29,000 poll the union conducted about Rauner and the union’s contract.

Along that same line, fair share workers were also forced to help fund $5,400 in charter buses the union used to transport protestors to Springfield for the union’s May 18, 2016 rally. That political rally featured union leaders and Democrat politicians – including House Speaker Mike Madigan – lambasting the governor for standing up for taxpayers and failing to kowtow to the union’s contract demands.

Again, regardless of and perhaps contrary to fair share workers’ political opinions, their fair share dues were utilized for blatantly politicized union activities.

What’s more, even the more traditional “representational” activities AFSCME funded in 2016 were detrimental to fair share payers. While no specific reason is given for most of the arbitration costs outlined in the report, the union did spend at least $7,000 for arbitration against a fair share payer who had challenged the union’s use of his or her fair share fees.

In other words, AFSCME will use a fair share payer’s fees in whatever way it wants – and it will even use those fees in attempt to silence those fair share payers with the courage to challenge the union giant.

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