Just 20% of AFSCME Council 31 spending goes toward representing workers

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
July 17, 2018

Just 20% of AFSCME Council 31 spending goes toward representing workers

The union’s own reporting shows only 20 percent of its overall spending is on “representational activities,” which should cause members to question what they are paying for.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 is the largest government worker union in Illinois. And it claims to be a voice for the government workers it represents. But that claim falls flat in light of the way the union spends workers’ money.

According to filings with the U.S. Department of Labor, AFSCME Council 31 spent about $41 million a year on average from 2013 through 2017.

But just $8.2 million, or 20 cents of every dollar, went toward “representational activities.” And even some of that claimed representational spending was highly political – and not truly representational – in nature.

If any other nonprofit spent just 20 percent on programming – its main purpose – its supporters would be livid. AFSCME’s spending patterns should cause members to question for what, exactly, they pay dues.

Follow the money

Between 2013 and 2017, AFSCME Council 31 spent an average of $8.2 million a year on “representational activities.” According to the U.S. Department of Labor, those are activities the union pursues in representing members in contract negotiations and then administering and enforcing the contract that is ratified.

But that spending accounts for just 20 percent of AFSCME Council 31’s spending from 2013 to 2017.

Where did the other 80 percent go? That was spent on items such as overhead, administration, contributions to other groups and politics.

For example, Council 31’s filing for 2017 includes almost $1.9 million it paid to union officers and employees as “overhead.” “Administration” expenses included another $1 million to union officers and employees. Added to that: over $4.7 million in union employee benefits.

Other items reported as “administration” in the 2017 report included convention expenses, such as hotel bookings, as well as headbands and bags.

And over at least the last five years, Council 31 categorized as “overhead” almost $1.2 million spent on publishing and mailing its highly political newsletter “On the Move,” which routinely calls its membership to lobbying efforts and endorses state and federal candidates. That is in addition to the $1.5 million Council 31 spent each year, on average, on “political activities and lobbying.”

In all, the vast majority of spending helps union leadership achieve its goals – but those goals don’t necessarily line up with real representation of rank-and-file members.

Even some of AFSCME Council 31’s “representational spending” was not representational in nature

Federal reporting requirements give unions such as AFSCME Council 31 wide leeway in determining what to categorize as “representational activities.” Thus, even those activities that are funded as representational can be more political in nature.

For example, in its 2016 and/or 2017 federal reporting documents, Council 31 classified the following political activities as “representational” spending:

  • $34,618 on “Stop Rauner Ads”
  • $33,658 on “Support State Worker” signs, a political rallying cry against Gov. Bruce Rauner and his labor reform agenda
  • $5,400 for charter buses to a union rally protesting Rauner and his budget priorities

By applying loose standards for what constitutes representation, the union spends even less than it reports on truly representing workers in negotiations and administration of contracts.

Workers represented by AFSCME should question AFSCME’s spending pattern

AFSCME Council 31 members should question AFSCME’s spending pattern, and opt out of union membership if they determine the union is not using their hard-earned money appropriately.

According to the Wise Giving Alliance, a project of the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit should spend at least 65 percent of its total expenses on program activities.

While the Wise Giving Alliance tracks spending by charities, it stands to reason that Council 31’s spending of just 20 percent on representation – the alleged purpose of the union – is a questionable use of workers’ money.

To place this in context, if a disaster relief fund spent just 20 percent of its funds on actual disaster relief – and the rest on leadership, conventions and politics – donors would be irate.

AFSCME members, too, should be concerned.

If you are an AFSCME-represented employee in Illinois and would like to exercise your right to stop paying money to the union, visit leavemyunion.com.

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