More than 38,000 workers have left government unions in Illinois

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
April 12, 2022

More than 38,000 workers have left government unions in Illinois

The unions’ own federal reports show 9% of workers have chosen to break away from unions since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME.

More than 38,000 state and local government workers across Illinois have chosen not to join or pay a government union since the U.S. Supreme Court restored that right in 2018 in Janus v. AFSCME.

That 9% drop is a strong indication union leadership is out of touch with what members want.

The union decline is shown in reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor by each of the top six government unions in Illinois: American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, SEIU HCII, SEIU Local 1 and SEIU Local 73.

In 2017, the last full reporting year before Janus, more than 427,000 employees paid dues or fees to those unions. But that number had dropped by more than 38,000 when the latest 2021 reports were filed.

Why are state and local government employees leaving their unions?

State and local government workers can leave their union – and not pay dues or fees – for any reason.

One of the most common reasons: workers don’t feel well represented by their unions. Union leaders’ political agendas and the labor strife created by strikes get in the way of what unions are supposed to be doing. Some workers feel there are better alternatives to unions.

Benny Durbin, a public works specialist in Arthur, Illinois, had been a member of IBEW. But as Durbin explained, “I just didn’t feel well-represented, or like there was enough support from our union. They didn’t really help us when we went into negotiations. They never really asked us what we wanted.”

“I also didn’t like seeing the union give our money to political figures for their campaign funds. I don’t like that at all. I think that’s a waste of our own money.”

Others, such as Chicago Public Schools teacher Olivia Waldron, were disappointed with union strike behavior or the way unions fought to keep teachers out of school buildings during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Going into the 2020-2021 school year, I saw the lack of humility, class and focus from union leadership. They were no longer advocating for teachers’ essential labor rights but advocating more for a political agenda. And they most certainly were not concerned with the well-being of the students,” Waldron said.

Derrick Crenshaw, a teacher in Glen Ellyn, left his union and found a union alternative after the Janus decision. “When [Mark] Janus won his Supreme Court case, I felt it was time to move on. I didn’t have anything in common with the national and the local union leadership,” Crenshaw said.

He added, “My local union tried to tell me there were no other alternatives, and I wouldn’t have any legal protection if I opted out. But I did my research and found the Association of American Educators, which provides professional education liability insurance and is non-partisan.”

How do government employees opt out of union membership?

Typically, Illinois government unions require members to send a written opt-out request. State and local government employees interested in joining the more than 38,000 other Illinois employees who have opted out of their unions can obtain everything they need at

Union members can opt out of membership at any time. However, some unions only allow members to stop paying dues at certain times during the year. The best way to determine that window of time is to submit opt-out paperwork, prompting the union to respond with information on the opt-out timeline.

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