Over 23,000 Illinois public school employees leave unions
Membership in teachers unions has decreased nearly 10% since 2017, when public educators gained the right to stop handing their pay to unions.
Over 23,000 Illinois public school employees – and 15,000 other government employees – have exercised their freedom to choose not to join or pay a union since the U.S. Supreme Court restored that right in 2018 through Janus v. AFSCME.
After the Janus decision, teachers such as Derrick Crenshaw stopped handing their money to the union: “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. They just wouldn’t push back on harmful policy. So I decided to opt out.”
Public teachers union membership statewide has decreased by over 23,000 individuals, based on reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor by teachers unions themselves. That’s a 9.6% overall decrease in membership for Illinois’ teachers unions since 2017, the last full year unions reported on membership numbers before Janus.
The Illinois Federation of Teachers – the state affiliate of the Chicago Teachers Union – reported 101,046 teachers and other public school employees paying dues or fees in 2017. In its most recent filing, it reported just 83,071. That is a loss of 17,975 people paying dues or fees to the union, or a nearly 18% decline in membership.
The Illinois Education Association also lost members after the Janus decision. Today, just 135,798 employees are handing their pay to IEA – down 5,173 workers since 2017.
Nationally, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association – the parent organizations for each of the Illinois state affiliate unions – have experienced decreases in membership.
In just the past year, AFT lost 10,365 members and NEA lost 65,416 members.
Why are teachers leaving their unions?
Public school employees choose to stop paying money to unions for different reasons, but many educators believe teachers unions don’t represent the best interests of students or teachers.
Chicago Public Schools teacher Joe Ocol has worked and been an after-school chess mentor in the district for 17 years, but he opted out of union membership when the actions of the Chicago Teachers Union didn’t align with his obligations to his students. Ocol didn’t join CTU on its walkout in 2016 or strike in 2019.
“I don’t see a correlation between salary increases and the plight of the kids,” Ocol said. “Why dangle the kids in the middle of the fight? That’s not fair to the kids.”
In 2012, CPS teacher Olivia Waldron went on strike with the union. But after missing seven days of instruction with her students, she started questioning CTU’s motives. Then in 2019 she watched her son’s school year at CPS interrupted by another strike lasting 11 days.
Waldron opted out before the 2020-2021 school year. “[Union leaders] were no longer advocating for teachers’ essential labor rights but advocating more for a political agenda,” Waldron said. “And they most certainly were not concerned with the well-being of the students.”
She concluded the needs of teachers and students are not represented well by the union – and there are more effective ways to impact public schools.
“Teachers and parents have a better chance of having a real voice at their local school through local school council meetings and working together as a school to discuss wants and needs,” she said.
For others, the shift in union priorities towards political agendas has spurred them to leave.
Naperville teacher Jeffry Bedore joined the Naperville Unit Education Association over 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 union membership the day of the Janus decision.
“That was the feeling: relief. It was like, ‘I am out from under this. I don’t have to play this game anymore,’” Bedore said.
Today, over 23,000 public school employees in Illinois have been able to experience this feeling of relief and many more are weighing whether to continue paying money to unions.
Illinois educators who want more control over their money have options:
- 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.
- Public school employees can join a union alternative. For example, the Association of American Educators, which has over 25,000 members across the country, provides a $2 million liability insurance policy, attorney representation when needed and other perks – typically at a fraction of the price of union membership.
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.
Both IFT and IEA have attempted to restrict or distort information about educators’ rights to stop paying union dues.