Opting out of the AFSCME union can protect state employees wanting to work during a strike.
Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration alleges AFSCME is telling its members they could be fined by the union if they cross a picket line during a strike.
AFSCME Council 31 says the claim is groundless. However, the AFSCME constitution that governs the organization and its subsidiaries gives them that power.
University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations Professor Michael LeRoy said it is common for unions to include that kind of provision in their bylaws.
“Unions rarely use that power but in extraordinary circumstances they do use that power,” he said. “There’s a Supreme Court ruling that limits the use of that power.”
LeRoy was referencing the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Pattern Makers v. NLRB, which holds that a worker can resign from the union and return to work during a strike without being punished by the union.
Heritage Foundation Labor Economics Researcher James Sherk said the ruling protects workers who want to continue to work during a possible strike.
“Any state employee who chose to, if a strike occurs, could simply resign their membership in AFSCME and would not face any fines or penalties for continuing to work during a strike,” Sherk said.
Sherk said opting out of being a full-dues-paying member means the employee can’t vote for union officials or on contracts, but they’d still be covered by contracts negotiated by the union. Sherk said this highlights the lack of competition in union representation for employees.
“If they think that another union would do a better job of representing their interest at a lower cost – or if they think they think they can do a better job themselves and can do better not paying any union dues – it doesn’t matter,” he said. “They are stuck with the union that was voted in decades earlier.”
A new state website features links for state employees to opt out of the union.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Labor Relations Board could rule the two parties are at an impasse and allow the state to impose terms on the union. The union has said that would leave members the option of either working under those terms or striking.