More than 35,000 unionized state workers may have to make an important decision in coming weeks: whether to join a strike or cross the picket line and go to work.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – Illinois’ largest government-worker union – has indicated it may call a strike as early as Sept. 1. It is estimated that a striking worker would lose at least $8,000 a month in lost wages, additional health insurance contributions and state pension contributions. And based on general labor laws, employees might not be immediately reinstated in their old jobs when the strike ends.
On top of that, rumors are spreading that AFSCME may fine members as much as $5,000 if they cross the picket line. AFSCME has denied the rumors – but regardless of whether AFSCME leaders intend to fine picket-crossing workers, a union can punish members for breaking a strike.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. Workers should be able to decide whether to strike without fear of incurring a union fine. Accordingly, the state of Illinois just posted online help for AFSCME-member employees who want to become “fair share payers” – which means an employee pays fees to the union for representation, but is not actually a union member subject to discipline by AFSCME for crossing a picket line.
The process is straightforward: By filing a letter of resignation from the union with AFSCME and the employee’s agency, the employee can become a fair share payer. The state’s website assists any interested employees with the process:
- First, an employee can download a form letter that informs AFSCME leadership that he wishes to resign from the union and become a fair share payer effective immediately. The employee would send that letter to the union. (The state has also included a letter for employees who wish to change their status from “fair share payer” to “union member.”)
- Next, the employee would alert his agency to his change in union status. The state has also included a link that allows the employee to do so.
By becoming a fair share payer, an employee does not lose any state-provided benefits. In fact, because unions like AFSCME have lobbied for and want a monopoly to represent all workers, fair share payers are still represented by unions and therefore are entitled to all rights secured in union-negotiated contracts.
But rather than paying membership dues to AFSCME, a fair share payer pays a fee that is supposed to represent his “fair share” of what it costs AFSCME to represent him in negotiations and other matters related to conditions of employment. Under both the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and the AFSCME contract with the state, the fee paid by a fair share payer will not exceed the amount of dues required of members.
The union must represent nonmembers fairly and without discrimination in all matters covered in the contract: collective bargaining, contract administration and matters affecting wages, hours and conditions of employment. In other words, fair share payers would still be entitled to any of the following benefits, among others, granted under the AFSCME contract or under state law:
- Health insurance
- Salary and raises
- Working conditions
- Leaves of absence (including sick leave)
- Representation in a grievance process
While the fair share payer is still entitled to all the rights guaranteed under the contract, he is no longer subject to the union’s rules and disciplinary procedures. This means the union cannot not levy a fine against a fair share payer for crossing a picket line.
State employees need to understand their right to opt out of the union – and any threatened union discipline – and become fair share payers. And the state’s website links provide an easy avenue for state workers to learn about and exercise their rights.