Government-employee unions in Illinois waste their members’ dues

Paul Kersey

Labor law expert, occasional smart-aleck, defender of the free society.

Paul Kersey
/ Labor
August 20, 2014

Government-employee unions in Illinois waste their members’ dues

Nearly all government employees are forced to pay money to a union as a condition of keeping their jobs. And it’s not cheap. The forced dues can reach as high as $1,000 per year in the case of Chicago public school teachers. Union officials can count on hundreds of millions of dollars a year in...

Nearly all government employees are forced to pay money to a union as a condition of keeping their jobs. And it’s not cheap. The forced dues can reach as high as $1,000 per year in the case of Chicago public school teachers. Union officials can count on hundreds of millions of dollars a year in required dues and fees.

Those officials say they need all this money to represent workers effectively, but union spending reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor tell a very different story. Our review of those reports showed that the most powerful government unions in Illinois either wasted member dues or diverted them into political causes.

Basic workplace representation – the main reason workers join unions – made up less than half of all spending for three of the state’s most influential union groups. For every dollar the Illinois Education Association, or IEA, spent, only 28 cents went to representation. For the Illinois Federation of Teachers , or IFT, that figure was 43 cents, and the state Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, Leadership Council spent only 23 cents out of every dollar on representation. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 was less bad than the rest, but barely half of its spending was on representation – 51 cents out of an average dollar.

Experts on nonprofit management generally agree that a well-run nonprofit should spend two-thirds or more of its budget on its core program. If anything, expectations for unions should be higher, because mandatory dues relieve them of the burden of having to raise their own funds, a luxury that most nonprofits could only dream of.

So, if the unions aren’t spending their money on representation, where does it go? For the IEA, IFT, and AFSCME the answer was overhead and administration. Overhead and administrative costs made up two-thirds of the IEA’s spending, and spending in this category was high at the IFT and AFSCME Council 31 as well.

For the SEIU Illinois Leadership Council, politics and lobbying made up the lion’s share of expenditures. The union admitted that 44 cents out of every dollar went to politics, but the group also made a lot of contributions to allied nonprofits, practically all of whom were political or ideological. When you take that into account, more than 71 cents out of every dollar went into union politics or to the SEIU’s political allies.

Teachers, prison guards, clerks, health-care workers and other government employees throughout Illinois are forced to pay dues and fees. Way too much of their hard-earned money is being wasted. The unions’ rationalizations for extracting dues just don’t hold up to scrutiny. Workers in Illinois should have the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to join and pay up.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!