Illinois teachers spend hundreds of dollars a year in union dues, but most of that money doesn’t stay with their local bargaining units.1
Instead, their money flows up the chain to the state and national affiliates, such as the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.
Teachers can learn how IFT and AFT spend money through the federal forms they file with the U.S. Department of Labor each year.
What those reports show may surprise some members.
For example, in 2021, IFT spent 190 times more money on Chicago-area affiliates than it did on affiliates south of Interstate 80.2 In fact, IFT reported directing money to only one affiliate south of I-80.3
That isn’t all. IFT and AFT admit in their reports that most of the spending was not on representing members, but on politics, overhead and other union leadership priorities.
That might be why IFT has seen a nearly 18% drop in membership since 2017.4
To aid teachers in evaluating union leadership priorities, this report reviews the following:
- IFT spending on affiliates
- IFT spending on representation
- AFT spending on representation.
IFT prioritizes Chicago-area affiliates over members south of Interstate 80
IFT directed more than $4.1 million to its affiliates in 2021.5 But more than $3.4 million of that money went to affiliates in Chicago and its suburbs.6
Just $18,164 went to any affiliates along or south of I-80.7 And that entire sum went to just one affiliate in the city of Quincy.
IFT clearly doesn’t prioritize spending on teachers outside of Chicago. Those teaches may want to evaluate whether IFT membership is right for them.
Only 24% of IFT’s spending was on representing teachers
IFT’s federal report shows it spent nearly $45.7 million in 2021.8
Yet just 24%9 of that was on “representational activities,” which the Department of Labor describes as the activities “associated with preparation for, and participation in, the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements and the administration and enforcement of the agreements.”10
The rest was spent on administration, politics and other leadership priorities.
To place this in perspective, the Wise Giving Alliance, a project of the Better Business Bureau, maintains a nonprofit should spend at least 65% of its total expenses on program activities.11 If a union were a non-profit, that would mean it should be spending 65% on representation.
While the Wise Giving Alliance tracks spending by charities, it stands to reason that IFT’s spending of just 24% on representation – the purpose of a union – should be a cause for concern among members.
Less than 31% of AFT’s spending was on representing teachers
AFT’s federal report shows it spent over $241.7 million in 2021.[i]
Yet not even 31% of that was on representing workers – the core purpose of a union.[ii]
Similar to IFT’s failure to prioritize representing teachers, AFT’s spending should raise concern among its members.
IFT’s failure to prioritize representing teachers across the state may be why it is losing so many members.
Since 2017, the union has seen a nearly 18% drop in union membership.14
Illinois educators who want more control over their dues are realizing they have options:
- Teachers can get liability insurance and legal protection elsewhere. Educators can join other associations, such as the Association of American Educators.15 AAE, which has 29,000 members across the country, provides liability insurance and legal protection to public school employees – typically at a fraction of the cost of union membership.
- Teachers can opt out of union membership and keep all employer-provided benefits. By opting out of union membership, a teacher stops paying dues to the union yet retains 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 bargaining units without being members – thereby helping to ensure their support stays local.
For more information, visit LeaveIFT.com.
1See, e.g., BFT Local 434, “Real transparency” (showing that just 26% of dues stayed local, with 72% flowing to IFT and AFT).
2IFT, 2021 LM-2, Schedules 15-19 (reporting a total of $3,448,733 in disbursements to Chicago-area affiliates and just $18,164 to a single downstate affiliate).
3See IFT, 2021 LM-2, Schedule 15 – Representational spending (reporting $18,164 in disbursements to Quincy Federation of Teachers).
4See IFT, 2021 LM-2, Schedule 13 – Membership status (showing 83,071 in members/agency fee payers in 2021); IFT, 2017 LM-2, Schedule 13 – Membership status (showing 101,046 in members/agency fee payers in 2017). See also Hannah Max, “Over 23,000 Illinois public school employees leave unions,” Illinois Policy (April 14, 2022).
5IFT, 2021 LM-2, Schedules 15-19 (reporting $4,164,221 in spending on its affiliates).
6IFT, 2021 LM-2, Schedules 15-19 (reporting $3,448,733 in spending on Chicago and suburban affiliates).
7IFT, 2021 LM-2, Schedule 15 – Representational spending (reporting $18,164 in disbursements to Quincy Federation of Teachers).
8IFT, 2021 LM-2, Statement B – Receipts and disbursements (reporting $45,673,273 in total spending).
9IFT, 2021 LM-2, Statement B – Receipts and disbursements (reporting $10,950,740 on “representational activities”).
10United States Department of Labor, “Instructions for form LM-2 labor organization annual report,” revised March 2020. It also includes activities related to organizing a unit or warding off a decertification.
11Better Business Bureau, “BBB Standards for charity accountability,” 2022.
12AFT, 2021 LM-2, Statement B – Receipts and disbursements (reporting $241,763,185 in total spending).
13AFT, 2021 LM-2, Statement B – Receipts and disbursements (reporting $73,650,700 on “representational activities”).
14See IFT, 2021 LM-2, Schedule 13 – Membership status (showing 83,071 in members/agency fee payers in 2021); IFT, 2017 LM-2, Schedule 13 – Membership status (showing 101,046 in members/agency fee payers in 2017). See also Hannah Max, “Over 23,000 Illinois public school employees leave unions,” Illinois Policy (Apr. 14, 2022).
15See Association of American Educators, “Illinois educators: You have rights and options.”