Nearly 1 in 5 leave Illinois government union since getting a choice

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
April 13, 2023

Nearly 1 in 5 leave Illinois government union since getting a choice

AFSCME Council 31’s own federal reports show 18.5% of workers have chosen to break away since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME. It could be because less than 21% of the union’s spending is on representing its members.

More than 12,000 state and local government workers across Illinois have chosen not to join or pay fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 since the U.S. Supreme Court restored their ability to choose in 2018 in Janus v. AFSCME.

That 18.5% drop is a strong indication AFSCME’s leadership is out of touch with what its members want.

The union’s decline is revealed in reports it filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. In 2017, the last full reporting year before Janus, more than 65,000 employees paid dues or fees to AFSCME Council 31, the state council affiliate for AFSCME in Illinois. But that number dropped to just over 53,000 when the latest 2022 report was filed at the end of March 2023.

And it’s not just Illinois. AFSCME’s national affiliate has seen nearly 172,000 workers choose not to affiliate with the union since 2017. That represents a drop of 12% nationwide.

Less than 21% of AFSCME Council 31’s spending is on representing members

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

“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 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.”

In 2022, less than 21% of AFSCME Council 31’s spending was on representing workers, according to its report with the U.S. Department of Labor. The rest was on politics, administration and other union leadership priorities.

AFSCME’s national affiliate fared even worse. Just 13% of its spending in 2022 was on representation. It spent nearly twice as much on “political activities and lobbying” as it did on representing members – what should be its core focus.

How state and local government employees can opt out of union membership

State and local government workers can leave their union – and not pay dues or fees – whether they feel poorly represented, object to their money going to politics or for any other reason.

Typically, Illinois government unions require members to send a written opt-out request.

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.

State and local government employees interested in joining the thousands of other Illinois employees who have opted out of their unions can find everything they need at

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