Illinois government unions celebrate Labor Day with 36,000 fewer members

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
August 31, 2023

Illinois government unions celebrate Labor Day with 36,000 fewer members

Labor Day this year leaves Illinois government unions fewer members to celebrate with. It appears to be the unions’ own fault. Over 36,000 workers have distanced themselves since 2017.

Labor Day finds significant portions of Illinois state and local government employees rejecting union membership, according to data supplied by the unions.

Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that government workers cannot be forced to fund the political agendas of union bosses. Workers are embracing that freedom, especially as the unions spend more of workers’ money on priorities other than the workers.

Over 36,000 workers since 2017 have chosen not to associate with some of the largest and most politically active government unions in Illinois, according to the unions’ own reports with the U.S. Department of Labor.

But the number of workers rejecting union leadership is even higher than it looks in the federal reports.

Take the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois-Indiana, or SEIU HCII, which appears to be the only major government union in Illinois that has gained members since 2017.

SEIU HCII reported just under 60,000 members and fee payers in its 2022 federal report, filed in March 2023. But on its website, it claims to represent “more than 91,000 workers” in four states.

That means at least one-third of workers represented by SEIU HCII have chosen not to be a part of the union.

AFSCME Council 31 has fared even worse. Its website claims the union represents 90,000 active and retired employees in Illinois. Its most recent federal report lists just over 53,000 members and fee payers, which can include retirees. That means 41% of the people it represents have chosen not to associate with the union.

So more than two of every five workers AFSCME Council 31 represents have rejected union membership.

How can a union represent more workers than are members? Illinois government unions have long held a monopoly over all employees in a unionized workplace, and that was by the unions’ own design. They wrote the laws that require them to represent all workers, even those who are not members. If they wanted to change that, they easily could do so through the legislative process in the union-friendly Illinois General Assembly.

In the meantime, the unions aren’t required to report how many workers they represent in their federal filings – only how many members pay them. Those that tout on their websites the number of workers they represent, such as SEIU HCII and AFSCME Council 31, demonstrate even more people are choosing not to join their unions than is reflected in federal reports.

Labor Day has been a national holiday since 1894, when labor activists pushed for a day to recognize union accomplishments, but those apparently no longer include member service. One of the most common reasons members leave their unions: they don’t feel well represented.

“I was in the AFSCME union and we just got no backing at all. The entire time I was president they never took up any grievance that we brought to them. Not one,” said John Moss, a former AFSCME Council 31 member.

“They never had any backing for us at all. They never would stand up for us, they never did anything for us. We weren’t being represented. They wanted our dues, [and] to increase our dues … The only thing they want to benefit is themselves, their own checkbooks,” he said.

It can also come down to the money. SEIU HCII spends very little on actually representing members. Its federal reports reveal just 22% of what it spends is on “representational activities” – dealing with employee needs – but it expects its members to fork over hundreds of dollars in dues.

Child care provider and former SEIU HCII member Janice Singleton has explained, “I am paid by the state between $38 and $41 per child per day. That comes out to less than $4 per hour most days since I will care for children sometimes up to 11 hours. After the day care expenses, taxes and union dues, some days I am not even making minimum wage.”

State and local government employees interested in joining the thousands of other workers who have rejected union membership can learn more about opting out at

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