Teachers’ unions spend millions on hotels, airlines and catering – but don’t tell members why

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
February 1, 2019

Teachers’ unions spend millions on hotels, airlines and catering – but don’t tell members why

NEA and AFT racked up millions of dollars in travel and catering expenses. Their reporting documents don’t always explain the intent, including why a cruise line received union money.

Illinois educators each pay hundreds of dollars a year in union dues, but they have few clues how their money is being spent when it reaches their national union affiliates.

The clues that do exist, such as a $6,000 cruise line expense, may warrant snapping a few No. 2 pencils.

Only a portion of educators’ union dues stay local. The rest is passed up the chain to state and national union affiliates.

Both the National Education Association, or NEA, and the American Federation of Teachers, or AFT, are required to file annual reportsoutlining receipts and disbursements of money for the year. But not all disbursements must be itemized, which is exactly what is happening with millions of dollars in funds the unions direct to hotels, airlines and caterers.

That means the unions can spend money without members knowing why it was spent.

Here are some of the largest non-itemized disbursements, along with options for Illinois teachers who would like to see their hard-earned money stay local.

NEA’s non-itemized spending, 2013-2018, included:

  • $22.9 million to airlines
  • $16.9 million to hotels
  • Over $1.7 million to a travel agency
  • Over $2.2 million for catering

In addition, NEA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on other travel expenses, including over $324,000 for car rentals, over $170,500 on Amtrak and over $6,000 with a cruise line.

These are non-itemized disbursements. They are in addition to other travel or catering spending the union did explain as “mbr/staff education” or “membership recruiting and organization.”

AFT’s non-itemized spending, 2014-2018, included:

  • Over $16.8 million to airlines
  • Over $3.8 million to hotels
  • Over $2.5 million for other transportation

In addition, AFT spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on other travel and catering expenses, including over $764,000 for trains, $172,000 for a travel agency and over $63,000 on catering and restaurants.

Again, these non-itemized disbursements are in addition to other travel or catering spending the union did explain as for “meeting expenses” or “meeting event.”

Illinois’ public school educators have other options

Instead of sending hundreds of dollars in dues each year to state and national union affiliates that don’t prioritize local teacher representation, Illinois’ public school educators can choose to opt outof union membership and keep more of their hard-earned money.

Opting out simply requires resigning from the union and alerting the employer. Interested teachers can obtain forms to do so here.

Under Illinois law, teachers who opt outof union membership are still represented by the union and guaranteed all benefits included in the collective bargaining agreement. Examples may include the following:

  • Salary and raises
  • Health insurance
  • Pension
  • Vacation days, holidays
  • Seniority
  • Leaves of absence (including sick leave)
  • Representation in a grievance

What’s more, teachers can choose to obtain liability insurance and job protection coverage from alternative entities that frequently charge just a fraction of the price of union membership.

Teachers who want to support local educators and programs can still do so by directly donating funds to their local bargaining units or other organizations of choice. That helps to keep teachers’ money local, and more accountable.

For more information, visit leavemyunion.com.

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