Illinois teachers saw union dues flow to Chicago groups, politics and Madigan

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
February 5, 2018

Illinois teachers saw union dues flow to Chicago groups, politics and Madigan

Government worker unions can use their members' dues in any number of ways. The most recent federal filings of one of Illinois' largest teachers unions reveal millions of dollars directed disproportionately to Chicago and to political causes with which their members may disagree.

Illinois teachers may be surprised where their union dues go.

Each year, unions such as the Illinois Federation of Teachers, or IFT, are required to file federal reporting documents that outline the ways those unions receive and disburse money. More than 100,000 education professionals pay union dues or fees to IFT. And the average annual dues total more than $340, not including dues paid to local or national affiliates.

According to the most recent filing, IFT sent millions of dollars in 2016 to Chicago-area affiliates, with a relative pittance going to affiliates located south of I-80.

That isn’t the only red flag in the reporting documents. Members of IFT – such as teachers belonging to the Belleville Federation of Teachers in District 204 – are also automatically members of the American Federation of Teachers, or AFT. AFT is IFT’s national counterpart.

AFT directed almost $2.5 million to its own political action committee, which in turn contributed to other Democratic causes, such as the Democratic Party of Illinois. In his role as chairman of the state’s Democratic party organization, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan controls those dollars, using them to reward or punish lawmakers across the state. Madigan is the only legislative leader in the nation to also serve as his state party chair, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Teachers who are represented by IFT but who have opted out of membership are required to pay fees to the union. Those fees are not supposed to be used for political purposes (although money is fungible).

But that isn’t the case with members’ dues. Member dues can be diverted in any number of ways.

These reports – which reveal that union dues are not necessarily kept local and may be used to fund causes with which members disagree – should incite questions among teachers represented by IFT.

IFT’s filing reveals a major spending discrepancy between its Chicago affiliates and those south of I-80

One of the most hotly contested actions by state lawmakers is when Illinois government prioritizes funding to Chicago over other areas of Illinois. But it isn’t just the government that has a history of diverting disproportionate funds to the Windy City.

IFT does it as well.

In its 2016 report, IFT reveals it disbursed millions of dollars for “representational activities” for its affiliates. The biggest recipient of those funds: Chicago-area affiliates, and particularly the Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU.

CTU received over $2.5 million from IFT for “affiliate subsidies and assistance.” Other Chicago-area affiliates, such as the North Suburban Teachers Union and the West Suburban Teachers Union, received over $962,000 collectively.

But south of I-80, it was a much different story. Downstate affiliates received less than $81,000 combined.

IFT’s filings should provoke teachers outside of the Chicago area to question how the spending of their dues is being prioritized.

AFT sent millions to political causes

Teachers should be able to contribute to whatever political causes they believe in. But with over 40 percent of union households voting Republican in the last presidential election, IFT and AFT’s reported spending appears contradictory to the political leanings of many rank-and-file members.

AFT directed almost $2.5 million to its “Political Account.” In the 2016 and 2018 (to date) election cycles, 100 percent of AFT PAC’s contributions to federal candidates went to Democrats, including Hilary Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Sen. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill.; and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

AFT’s PAC also directed money to other PACs, such as the Democratic Party of Illinois, which is controlled by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. Madigan – who has remained speaker of the House for 33 of the last 35 years – enjoys some of the worst approval ratings of any politician in the state.

Illinois teachers should not have to watch their hard-earned dollars flow toward political causes they don’t believe in.

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