Nearly 12K Illinois educators have stopped paying a teachers union

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
October 2, 2019

Nearly 12K Illinois educators have stopped paying a teachers union

Educators across the state are exercising their rights, with 12,000 fewer public school employees sending dues or fees to teachers unions today than before the Janus v. AFSCME ruling.

Thousands of teachers and other public education workers across Illinois have exercised their right not to join or pay a union in the year following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Janus v. AFSCME.

The latest numbers come from the Illinois Education Association, which reported in a Sept. 27 federal filing that thousands have stopped paying dues or fees since June 30, 2018. While the union experienced a slight uptick in the number of full members, it lost 4,881 dues or fee payers overall – a 3% decline from the previous year.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers also saw a drop in educators sending money to the union. In 2017, the union received dues and fees from 101,046 employees in Illinois. In 2018, that number fell to just 94,229, meaning nearly 7% of educators represented by IFT in 2017 were no longer paying the union by the end of 2018.

Between IEA and IFT, nearly 12,000 educators have stopped paying union dues or fees. Both are seeing fewer educators send money to the union today than before the Janus decision was announced in June 2018.

Why are teachers leaving their unions?

There are a number of reasons public education professionals have stopped paying money to their unions.

Some may feel the union doesn’t represent them well. Naperville teacher Jeffry Bedore, for example, joined the Naperville Unit Education Association 20 years ago. But after years of watching the union’s priorities shift toward politics and away from the needs of teachers and students, he resigned his membership from the union and instead became a “fair share” payer.

Still, even though the mandatory “fair share” fees he paid may have cost him slightly less than did full membership dues, there was another cost: being forced to fund political speech with which he disagreed.

“Because I want to do something that I see as a service, I have to contribute to a political cause that I frankly think is wrong,” Jeffry said. “And that’s a surreal place to find yourself.”

Fortunately, the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling freed Jeffry from paying the union altogether. “The day the decision came down I sent an email to the union and to the district saying that’s it, I’m out,” he said.

Educators exercising their right to stop paying the union could work in the union’s favor, Jeffry said. With more control over their hard-earned money, workers’ freedom to stop the flow of funds to the union creates an incentive for the union to focus on representing its members.

“You would hope that they start to focus on things that actually matter more in the day-to-day and long-term needs of the profession. You could be for or against [a political cause], that’s fine. But what does that have to do with teaching? What does it have to do with how you make a living or the environment you work in? Nothing. So you would hope that over time they would start to steer away from that sort of thing and start to think pragmatically.”

Like Jeffry, educators in other bargaining units often disagree with the union’s political activities. For example, a recent trip by a Chicago Teachers Union delegation to Venezuela sparked outcry from union members. While not funded by CTU, the delegation traveled under the CTU banner and publicly praised the Venezuelan government, which has been accused in United Nations reports of grave human rights violations.

Not all unions’ political activities are controversial, but all local bargaining units send members’ money to state affiliates, which spend millions on politics, as documented in their federal reports. The Illinois Education Association reported spending $6.6 million on political activities and lobbying between 2013 and 2018, for an average of $1.1 million a year. During the same time period, the Illinois Federation of Teachers reported spending more than $5.8 million on political activities and lobbying, for an average of nearly $973,000 a year.

The national affiliates spend even more on politics. The National Education Association, the national affiliate of IEA, spent more than $136.4 million a year on average from 2013 to 2018 on political activities and lobbying – which was more than it spent on representing members. The American Federation of Teachers, the national affiliate of IFT, spent an average of $31.8 million a year on politics during the same time period.

Whatever the reason, educators should not feel obligated to pay a union they don’t feel represents them well.

Illinois educators who want more control over their money do have options: 

  1. Public school employees can join a union alternative. For example, the Association of American Educators, which has over 22,000 members across the country, provides a $2 million liability insurance policy, attorney representation when needed and other perks – often at a fraction of the price of union membership.
  2. Public school employees can opt out of union membership. By opting out of union membership, public school employees stop paying dues to the union but retain all benefits that are provided in the collective bargaining agreement with the school district.

Opting out doesn’t mean educators don’t support their local bargaining unit. In fact, educators are free to send voluntary donations to their local union without being a member – thereby helping keep their support local.

Unfortunately, both IEA and IFT have attempted to restrict or distort information about educators’ rights to stop paying union dues.

Educators interested in avoiding those barriers can visit for more information on IEA, or for IFT.

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