A new era of freedom for Chicago Public Schools employees

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has marked a new era for public school employees in Illinois.

For decades, public school employees had to make an unfair, unconstitutional choice: Pay fees to a union, or lose your job.

But that changes with the Janus v. AFSCME decision. The court ruled in June 2018 that paying fees to a union can no longer be a condition of employment. Now you can work for the school district without paying fees to a union.

If you don’t like the way the union represents you or the way the union focuses on politics, or if you simply want to keep more of your paycheck to spend on things you care about, you no longer have to pay fees.

There are a lot of voices out there, and a lot of opinions. Here’s what you need to know to sort it all out:

What does the Janus v. AFSCME decision mean?

Janus v. AFSCME is about restoring freedom to government-employed workers. It is about giving government workers a voice and a choice.

The case was brought by Mark Janus, a child support specialist for the state of Illinois. Like many other government workers, Mark loved his job and worked hard for the state. But he didn’t agree with the politics and policies of his union. And he didn’t think he should be forced to give money to the union just to keep his job.

But for 40 years, government employers and government unions colluded to force government workers into an unfair choice: Pay the union, or lose your job.

Mark challenged that unconstitutional choice – and won.

That means government workers finally get to choose where to direct their hard-earned money.

Unless an employee gives clear and affirmative consent, it is unconstitutional for an employer to transfer any dues or fees from the employee’s paycheck to the union.

Any prior “consent” is not valid because it was based on an unconstitutional choice: Pay dues to the union and become a member, or pay fees to a union and remain a nonmember. That means employers should cease deducting any dues or fees immediately.

But some employers may not act quickly, and the unions will attempt to delay or thwart such efforts. To ensure your dues or fees stop in a more timely manner, we encourage government employees to alert their unions and their employers that they consider themselves nonmembers, and the dues or fees must stop immediately.

Why would I want to end my union dues or fees?

The choice of whether to fund a union is a deeply personal one. Public school employees who have chosen not to be union members have done so for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • The union spends too much money on political causes.
  • The union isn’t representing me well.
  • I would like freedom to make choices that benefit my family and me without fear of union punishment.
  • My family budget is tight, and it would really help if the union wasn’t taking dues money from me every paycheck.

The union spends too much money on political causes.

Unions are inherently political. And member dues fund politicians and causes that workers may oppose. Opting out allows you to determine where your hard-earned money goes. Take a look at the following examples from the Illinois Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers, the umbrella organizations of Chicago Teachers Union:

  • IFT and AFT spend millions on politics. Between 2013 and 2017, IFT and AFT spent over $164 million on political activities and lobbying.
  • AFT sends millions of dollars to its political account. In the 2016 election cycle, AFT PAC’s contributions to federal candidates topped $1.7 million to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Sen. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill.; and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. It spent just $5,500 on Republican candidates.
  • IFT sends millions to Chicago affiliates – but a relative pittance to downstate affiliates. In 2016, IFT sent over $2.5 million to the Chicago Teachers Union and over $962,000 to other affiliates in Chicago and the Chicago suburbs for representational purposes – but less than $81,000 to affiliates south of I-80.

The union isn’t representing me well.

There’s a good chance you never voted for your union. In fact, many of Illinois’ government worker unions were in place before current workers were even born.

Perhaps the union failed to provide adequate support when you filed a grievance. Maybe the union’s priorities no longer reflect the priorities of its members. Or perhaps you don’t oppose the politicians the union supports, but think the union’s job is to represent you – not to engage in highly political activities.

Opting out allows you to retain your dues if you don’t think the union is representing you well. And it sends a message that the union needs to work harder to support the workers it represents.

I would like more freedom to make choices that benefit my family and me – without fear of union punishment

Public school strikes are not uncommon in Illinois. In fact, the state is home to two of the nation’s biggest government worker strikes in the last decade – both at the hands of Chicago Teachers Union.

And that means educators in Illinois frequently have to make an intensely personal and stressful decision: 1) Go to work and get paid – and risk fines or other punishment by the union, or 2) Go on strike – and risk not only your paycheck, but, unbeknownst to many workers, maybe even your job.

Because the union has no disciplinary authority over nonmembers, opting out provides you more freedom to make the choice that is best for you and your family.

My family budget is tight, and it would really help if the union wasn’t taking dues money from me every paycheck.

A public school employee directs hundreds of dollars – or more – every year to his or her government union. That is money the worker earns, but never gets to see.

Opting out of the union allows you to keep more of your hard-earned money.

What happens if I am not a member of the union?

Nonmembers do not pay any fees to the union. But you are guaranteed the benefits provided in the collective bargaining agreement.

That’s because decades ago, Illinois’ government worker unions lobbied for the exclusive right to represent all public workers – both members and nonmembers. And that means you retain all benefits provided in your collective bargaining agreement.

Examples may include the following:

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

On the other hand, nonmembers are not entitled to perks guaranteed to members through the union’s internal rules or membership agreement. Examples may include:

  • Voting (on ratification of contract, strike authorization, etc.)
  • Holding union office or representing the union as a delegate to the convention
  • Utilizing union-negotiated discounts (for things such as additional life insurance, health clubs, tickets to events, etc.)
  • Maintaining any liability insurance the union provides, as opposed to insurance provided by the government employer
  • Receiving newsletters or other union publications
  • Attending special union events (such as meetings, picnics, Christmas parties, etc.)

Fortunately, there are other organizations that provide liability insurance and job protection coverage to public school educators, typically charging far less than what educators pay in union membership dues.

Which workers does the Janus case help?

The Janus v. AFSCME decision applies to government workers at the state and local levels. These workers include teachers in public schools as well as workers employed by cities, towns, villages, counties, townships or the state.

It does not apply to federal government workers or workers in the private sector.

I keep hearing about “free riders” – what does that mean?

Government unions claim that providing workers with a choice of whether to pay fees to a union will produce “free riders” – workers who reap the benefits of union representation without paying for it. But that claim is disingenuous.

What the government unions really want is absolute control over workers, even if it means some workers don’t pay for representation.

First, government unions in Illinois lobbied for the right to represent all workers – not just members. Unions such as IFT lobbied for – and won – the monopoly on representing workers. Some unions - including IFT - even wrote the laws that gave them this power.

Second, government unions fight against legislation that would allow non-dues-paying workers to represent themselves and stop being subject to union representation.

Unions want complete dominance over the workforce. Government workers who don’t want the unions’ control over their livelihoods shouldn’t be forced to pay for it.

How do I tell my employer and union to stop deducting dues or fees?

In general, opting out requires the following steps:

Step 1Notify the union in writing that you are resigning from union membership.
Step 2Notify your employer that you are no longer a union member and, therefore, you withdraw any authorization for dues or fees to be deducted from your paycheck.

While the Janus decision makes many “opt out” procedures obsolete, you may want to comply with past procedures to ensure your dues or fees stop in a timely manner.

When can I end my union dues or fees?

You can resign from the union at any time by following Step 1:

Step 1Notify the union in writing that you are resigning from union membership.

Some obsolete “opt out” procedures place limits on when you can execute Step 2:

Step 2Notify your employer that you are no longer a union member and, therefore, you withdraw any authorization for dues or fees to be deducted from your paycheck.

For example, the Chicago Teachers Union limits Step 2 to the month of August, per its collective bargaining agreement with Chicago Public Schools. Similarly, many affiliates of the Illinois Education Association require that the revocation of dues deduction authorization under Step 2 be received before Sept. 10 or Sept. 15 in order to be effective for the coming school year.

What does that mean? It means that while you may no longer be a member of the union (Step 1), your employer could continue to deduct dues or fees – and transmit them to the union – if you did not revoke your dues authorization (Step 2) in the appropriate time period.

Under Janus, such opt-out windows should no longer be constitutional. But because unions may attempt to enforce them, workers may want to mail opt-out letters within any timelines previously dictated by the unions.

For assistance in determining the time frame to revoke your dues deduction authorization, feel free to contact us at help@leavemyunion.com

Do I need to do anything if I am already a fair share payer?

If you think you are a fair share payer but aren’t sure, we encourage you to complete both Steps 1 and 2.

If you know you are a fair share payer, you have already completed Step 1 (opting out of the union). But to best ensure your employer stops deducting union fees from your paycheck, we encourage you to complete Step 2: