Amid dues hikes, AFSCME opt-outs left in the dark on union spending
If people are forced to pay money to unions, they should at the very least have easy access to a detailed account of how their money is spent.
When workers opt out of a union in Illinois, they still have to pay “fair share” or “agency” fees, so called because they are intended to cover a worker’s “fair share” of the cost of union representation. But part of what nonmembers of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 pay for includes the cost of organizing workers and social activities for the union. Gov. Bruce Rauner attempted to halt this practice with an executive order issued on Feb. 9.
AFSCME Council 31 affiliates mainly represent Illinois’ state workers. Union dues for AFSCME Council 31 members have increased in the last few months, typically by 2 to 4 percent, depending on the local.
With the latest increases, AFSCME has determined that fees charged to nonmembers will go up, as nonmembers are forced to pay 79 percent of what members do in agency fees.
In 2011, the union issued a required notice to agency feepayers stating that nonmembers were required to pay their “proportionate share” of the costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment.
In other words, nonmembers are only supposed to pay for representation.
But it appears the union is charging nonmembers for other expenses.
Also in its 2011 notice, AFSCME Council 31 indicated it would charge for items that have nothing to do with representation. One such cost is defending AFSCME from “efforts by other unions or organizing committees to gain representation rights in units represented by AFSCME.”
In other words, AFSCME is requiring people who have indicated they don’t want to be a member of the union to fund efforts to fight off competing unions. It’s conceivable that some nonmembers might actually prefer other unions trying to organize in the workplace.
AFSCME’s nonmembers also have to help cover the costs of the union’s efforts to organize other bargaining units, effectively paying for the expansion of an organization they oppose.
By contrast, the state’s biggest teachers union, the Illinois Education Association, doesn’t charge for organizing activities, according to its required notice to agency feepayers.
Another cost in which AFSCME’s nonmembers must share is social and recreational activities.
This should concern nonmembers and members alike.
In 2013, AFSCME spent more than $460,000 on hotels and $32,000 at its holiday party for its staff and directors, expenses that differed little from previous years, according to reports the union files with the U.S. Department of Labor.
The union also spends thousands of dollars on an annual dinner for its executive board at Maldaner’s restaurant in Springfield, which cost $6,000 in 2013. Although AFSCME’s 2013 report doesn’t say how many people attended, if one assumes each of the 36 board members took a guest, the cost would amount to $89.50 per meal.
In 2005, the union threw a retirement party at a downtown Chicago hotel for the union’s associate director. It cost more than $20,000.
But under current union practice, nonmembers are unable to know if or how much they were forced to pay for these specific events.
AFSCME Council 31 doesn’t provide that kind of detail in its Hudson Rights notice, which unions are required to produce when increasing fees on nonmembers as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
According to its 2013 report, though, 51 percent of AFSCME’s budget went to representation. That’s a union’s main responsibility, yet AFSCME spends much of its money on administration, overhead, and political and lobbying activities.
If people are forced to pay money to unions, they should at the very least have easy online access to a detailed account of how their money is spent.
With AFSCME Council 31, that detail is lacking – and nonmembers are left in the dark as a result.