Fraction of Illinois teachers’ union dues spent representing members

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
February 1, 2019

Fraction of Illinois teachers’ union dues spent representing members

Recent federal filings by Illinois teachers’ unions show as little as 13 cents of every dollar was spent for “representational activities” – which is supposed to be the central purpose of the unions.

Illinois educators pay hundreds of dollars each year in dues to teachers’ unions, which are supposed to represent teachers in contract negotiations and administration of ratified contracts.

But federal filingsby the state and national teachers’ unions reveal they don’t prioritize spending on “representational activities.” In fact, the Illinois Education Association, or IEA, spent just 13 cents of every dollar on “representational activities.”

Illinois Federation of Teachers, or IFT – along with the state organizations’ national affiliates, the National Education Association, or NEA, and the American Federation of Teachers, or AFT – don’t fare much better.

Fortunately, teachers don’t have to send money to national and state union affiliates that don’t prioritize spending to represent their members. Instead, they can opt outof union membership while retaining the benefits provided in their teacher contracts.

Unions’ own numbers demonstrate representation is not a priority

Teachers’ union dues don’t stay local. Instead, they are funneled up the chain to state and national affiliates.

According to recent federal reporting documents filed by the IEA, IFT and their national affiliates, spending on representational activities is not a priority. Here is how they spend union funds:

Illinois Education Association

  • Between 2013 and 2018, just over $9.7 million of IEA’s $75.7 million average annual spending was for “representational activities.” That’s 13 percent of IEA’s spending, or just 13 cents of every $1.
  • The union spent more on benefits for union leaders and employees – more than $12.3 million, on average each year – than it did on representing members.

Illinois Federation of Teachers

  • Between 2013 and 2017, fewer than $11 million of IFT’s $43 million average annual spending was for “representational activities.” That’s 26 percent of IFT’s spending, or 26 cents of every $1.
  • Almost half of the money IFT claimed to spend on “representational activities” ($5.2 million on average, each year) was actually designated for officer and union employee salaries.

National Education Association

  • Between 2013 and 2018, only $45 million of NEA’s $365.4 million average annual spending was for “representational activities.” That’s 12 percent of NEA’s spending, or just 12 cents of every $1.
  • The union’s combined average annual spending on “political activities” and “contributions, gifts and grants” – $136.4 million – vastly exceeded its spending on representing teachers.

American Federation of Teachers

  • Between 2014 and 2018, only $75 million of AFT’s $331 million average annual spending was for “representational activities.” That’s 23 percent of AFT’s spending, or 23 cents of every $1.

According to the Wise Giving Alliance, a project of the Better Business Bureau, at least 65 percent of a nonprofit’s total expenses should be for program activities. To place this in context, if a disaster relief organization spent just 13 percent of its funds on helping people after a disaster – and the rest on leadership, conventions and politics – donors would be irate.

Illinois’ public school educators, too, should be concerned.

Illinois’ public school educators have options

Instead of sending hundreds of dollars in dues each year to state and national union affiliates that don’t prioritize local teacher representation, Illinois’ public school educators can choose to opt outof union membership and keep more of their hard-earned money.

Opting out simply requires resigning from the union and alerting the employer. Interested teachers can obtain forms to do so here.

Under Illinois law, teachers who opt outof union membership are still represented by the union and guaranteed all benefits included in the collective bargaining agreement. Examples may include the following:

  • Salary and raises
  • Health insurance
  • Pension
  • Vacation days, holidays
  • Seniority
  • Leaves of absence (including sick leave)
  • Representation in a grievance

What’s more, teachers can choose to obtain liability insurance and job protection coverage from alternative entities that frequently charge just a fraction of the price of union membership.

Teachers who want to support local educators and programs can still do so by directly donating funds to their local bargaining units or other organizations of choice. That helps to keep teachers’ money local, and more accountable.

For more information, visit

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