Governments unions veer from mission in Illinois
Big spending at hotels, holiday parties and retirement events is financed by forced dues.
Gov. Bruce Rauner is fighting to give state workers freedom of choice on union representation.
Previously, state workers were required to pay money to big government unions as a condition of employment. In an executive order issued Monday, Rauner barred state-employee unions from collecting mandatory fees from workers.
This action directly affects the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the dominant union for state workers. And for an obvious reason – the order jeopardizes its guaranteed money stream.
A simple look at the union’s annual reports with the U.S. Department of Labor shows how far it has veered from its mission.
In 2013, AFSCME spent only 51 cents of every dollar in union dues on representation of workers, which is the union’s chief job. Most of the rest of the money went to administration, overhead, and political and lobbying activities.
This is an utter failure when compared to other nonprofit groups. If you donated to a homeless shelter and found only half was going to sheltering the homeless, you would probably look for a new charity. So would other donors.
Yet this kind of spending is business as usual for government unions.
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.
Most years, AFSCME spends thousands of dollars on a dinner for its executive board at Maldaner’s restaurant in Springfield. In 2013, it spent more than $6,000 for the dinner. The union’s report doesn’t say how many people attended, but if each of the 36 board members took a guest, the cost would amount to $89.50 a meal.
In 2005, the union threw a retirement party at a downtown Chicago hotel for the union’s associate director. The tab: $20,391.
AFSCME is by no means alone.
In 2013, Chicago-based Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois-Indiana, which represents child care aides and at-home caregivers, among others, spent a total of $1.5 million on such things as hotels, air travel, rental cars, restaurants and catering. That’s out of a total annual budget of $46.2 million, most of which comes from members’ dues and agency fees that nonmembers are required to pay.
If this superfluous spending does not seem like a lot of money compared to a $46.2 million budget, putting it in terms of dollars per member can provide perspective.
Dividing the total union budget by all the members and nonmembers paying dues gives an average of $492 per person. Thus, the $1.5 million in questionable spending represents money that 3,092 members and nonmembers contributed.
The SEIU’s report contains other eyebrow-raising numbers. In December 2013, the SEIU chapter spent nearly $50,000 on its “membership” Christmas party, which included more than $34,000 for catering and $6,000 to Binny’s Beverage, a liquor store.
Other SEIU Healthcare expenses included more than $7,000 for floral arrangers at a 2013 event and nearly $7,000 for Christmas decorations for the union office the year before.
According to the union’s report, 62 percent of its spending was categorized under “representational activities,” the reason for the union’s existence. Yet it’s hard to understand how a lavish party advances the cause of representing workers’ interests.
Workers across the state deserve a choice in supporting such spending habits. As it stands, these organizations lack the accountability necessary to represent them fairly.