Union worker representation only 20 percent of AFSCME spending in Illinois

Union worker representation only 20 percent of AFSCME spending in Illinois

Federal financial filings from Illinois’ largest government union show only 20 percent of its spending goes toward representing its members.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 touts its record as “best in the nation” when it comes to representing workers, but where it puts members’ money shows a different priority.

Only 20 cents of every $1 spent by AFSCME Council 31 between 2013 and 2017 went toward representing its workers, according to federal financial filings with the U.S. Department of Labor. It claims to represent 75,000 government workers and is the largest union representing Illinois state workers.

Federal law requires unions that bring in $250,000 or more each year to file an annual financial report known as an LM-2, which records and categorizes union spending. From 2013 to 2017, AFSCME Council 31 spent $41 million a year on average with just $8.2 million – or 20 percent – listed as “representational activities” during that time.

“Representational activities,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor, constitute money union leaders put toward representing workers in contract negotiations and in enforcing those ratified contracts.

So if 80 percent of Council 31’s spending never reaches the bargaining table or hearing room, members should ask: Just how excellent is their representation? Most of the union money goes to administrative and overhead costs, contributions to outside groups and political lobbying, according to the union’s federal reports.

Union officers and employees collected nearly $1.9 million reported as “overhead,” according to the 2017 filings. More than $4.7 million was spent on benefits for employees of the union, and $1 million in “administration” spending also went to union staffers that year.

Council 31 reported $1.5 million each year on average as “political activities and lobbying.” While AFSCME members might question whether their dues ought to go toward politics in the first place, more dubious are the expenditures the union reports as non-political but which are nevertheless used for politics.

For example, during at least the past five years, the union categorized as “overhead” almost $1.2 million spent on publishing and mailing its highly political newsletter, “On the Move,” which routinely rallies its membership to political causes and endorses state and federal candidates. What’s worse, an Illinois Policy Institute analysis from 2018 found that much of the union’s spending reported as “representational” is in fact political.

While administrative and operational costs are certainly part of all nonprofit groups’ budgets, the meager amount Council 31 devotes to its members is a significant outlier. The Wise Giving Alliance, a project of the Better Business Bureau, has determined that a nonprofit should spend at least 65 percent of its total expenses on program activities.

To put Council 31’s spending priorities in context, suppose a disaster relief fund spent just 20 percent of its funds on actual disaster relief – and the rest on leadership, conventions and politics. Donors would justifiably feel deceived.

For decades, AFSCME has taken its stream of funds for granted, and prioritized spending around union leaders and politics, rather than representing the interests of workers.

If you are a public sector worker in Illinois and would like to exercise your right to stop paying money to the union, visit leavemyunion.com. If you would like to stop sending money to AFSCME, visit leaveafscme.com.

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