Government unions invested $10M in Madigan, but could that end in 2021?

Government unions invested $10M in Madigan, but could that end in 2021?

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has funded a lot of campaigns – and his legal defense – with money from government unions. Even if unions still back him in the New Year, members have options.

For the first time in 35 years, the Illinois House may be ringing in the new year and the new session with a new speaker.  

House Speaker Mike Madigan has been embroiled in a federal corruption scandal, damaging his chances for another term as speaker. To date, 19 House Democrats out of 73 have said they refuse to back Madigan for another term as speaker, leaving him six votes shy of the 60 he’ll need on Jan. 13. 

Government worker unions have invested $10 million in Madigan in the past 26 years, but their members may not agree that he should receive support and cash for a 19th term 

Most public-sector workers in Illinois expect their union dues to fund representation at their workplace. But that’s often not the case, as recent research from the Illinois Policy Institute points out.

According to data from the Illinois State Board of Elections, unions have given over $10 million to election committees run by Madigan. Just shy of $4 million was paid by teachers. 

Dues paid by teachers to the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, their state affiliates and political action committees ended up in Madigan’s campaign coffers. 

Unions spend a lot of time convincing members that their membership dues are spent in their best interests, but rather than spending money on representing their members or trying to influence labor issues, the unions push political agendas that may not match members’ values.

According to Department of Labor reports, the American Federation of Teachers gave $250,000 to Madigan’s personal election campaign in 2018 alone. 

Also late that year, SEIU gave nearly $450,000 to Madigan committees – just as he was settling a sexual harassment lawsuit against his campaign committee brought by a campaign worker whose harasser was funneled $30,000 after Madigan publicly fired the guy. At least $350,000 of the SEIU money was shifted from member dues into the political action fund.

When someone donates to a union political committee, that is one thing. But when union leaders decide dues should be spent on politics, or to defend a politician from a worker’s complaint, that’s another.

Teachers and other government workers expect their membership dues to pay for representation in contract negotiations and labor disputes. If workers decide they don’t want their money to support Madigan or politics that don’t match their beliefs, they can opt out of the union. 

Until 2018, average public sector workers in Illinois had no choice but to shut up and pay up in the face of unsavory union politics. Even workers who opted out of the union had to pay hundreds of dollars in “fair share” fees. 

That all changed when Mark Janus, a former child support specialist for the state of Illinois, sued AFSCME Council 31 and won. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling freed millions of government workers nationwide from having to pay money to a union just to keep their jobs. 

Workers who opt out of unions are guaranteed the benefits provided in the collective bargaining agreement – regardless of union affiliation. 

Guaranteed benefits included in a contract may include salary and raises, health insurance, pension benefits, vacation days and holidays, overtime pay, seniority, or leaves of absence, including sick leave. 

As Madigan faces 2021 with the first real challenge to his leadership in 35 years, unions may want to rethink the backing they gave the Illinois House speaker in the old year, and government workers may want to consider whether they want to financially support Madigan or themselves in the New Year.  

For more information on leaving your government union, click here.  To opt out online, visit

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