A closer look at a union front group and how dues money is spent for political gain.
Illinois has its share of political advocates on both sides of the aisle. Most focus on multiple policies or a singular subject (education) and its related aspects (funding, class size, school choice, testing, disciplinary actions, etc). But there is one group that seems to have a singular, laser-like focus not on a policy but a person: Governor Rauner. Over 6,000 tweets since this group’s Twitter account creation in 2015 devoted to nothing but commenting on Rauner’s every move, including what he wears…
Illinois Working Together certainly seems to have the governor covered, from helmet to vest to toe. But who is “Illinois Working Together” and what are they all about? Per their website:
Illinois Working Together is a coalition defending all working families from anti-worker attacks. Illinois Working Together believes that Governor Rauner’s wrong priorities seek to harm hardworking families and communities throughout Illinois while protecting the most wealthy. The Coalition’s goal is to stand up and fight back against the governor’s political attacks and threats – and protect the vital services all Illinoisans rely on.
So I guess their obsessive Twitter account makes a bit more sense now. It’s good to note we taxpayers have yet another defender of the “working family”. Unfortunately, history has shown these groups typically define “working” as those that pay union dues. The best way to determine their agenda, besides the obvious Rauner slant, is to trace their roots.
Illinois Working Together…Literally!
Illinois Working Together is located at 534 S Second Street, Suite 200, Springfield, IL. Normally, an address is no big secret, but their address does not appear on their website or Facebook pages. Rather, I found their address by tracing payments made to this organization filed in various government websites. The address is significant because various political committees shared this exact same address in the past: Committee to Reduce Income Inequality & to Support Human Rights (minimum wage increase and millionaire’s tax), Voices for Illinois Workers, We Are One opposed to the Constitutional Amendment (against pension reform). Each of these committees, while no longer active, shared platforms supported financially by union interests. This started to make more sense once I found one other organization located at 534 S Second Street, Suite 200, Springfield, IL but still active: the Illinois AFL-CIO.
While the Illinois AFL-CIO certainly looks like a traditional union, there is no record of them, their financial reports, or their employees with the US Dept. Of Labor like other unions. That’s because the Illinois AFL-CIO is one of those clandestine outfits under the union umbrella that is explicitly exempt from the definition of “labor organization.” How is that possible? The Illinois AFL-CIO is what the Dept. of Labor considers a “state or local central body” which is not subject to the same reporting obligations governing labor unions under federal law. There’s a lot of legalese around the interpretation, but all you need to know is it’s the equivalent of a corporate loophole or dark money allowing the AFL-CIO to operate outside the normal disclosure rules governing unions in general.
The president of the Illinois AFL-CIO is Michael Carrigan. Coincidentally, each one of the political committees mentioned above has Michael Carrigan registered as their Chairman. Mr. Carrigan is also a board member of the union-funded think tank Center for Tax and Budget Accountability that promotes higher taxes on working families. I’m unable to determine Michael Carrigan’s affiliation to Illinois Working Together as there is only one name associated with this organization: Jake Lewis.
Records show unions have contributed over $150,000 to Illinois Working Together since 2016 (political contributions highlighted in yellow):
So here we have an organization with a union address funded by multiple unions with strong ties to union leadership. Needless to say, we’ve cracked the code: Illinois Working Together is a union-fronted organization.
Illinois Working…For Everyone?
While researching the Illinois AFL-CIO, I uncovered yet another organization registered at what seems to be the most popular address in Springfield, 534 S Second Street, Suite 200: Illinois Working For Everyone. Other than a dead blog site, this appears to be the original incarnation of Illinois Working Together. Look at their logos:
Furthermore, records show unions have contributed over $190,000 to Illinois Working For Everyone over just a 3 month span in 2015, including a direct payment from their suite-mate, Michael Carrigan’s Illinois AFL-CIO:
Why Illinois Working For Everyone was re-branded as Illinois Working Together is anyone’s guess. Perhaps this reflected a shift from from private to public sector union support as the contributions seem to imply. Overall, this organization has received over $340,000 in union funding over a two year span.
Illinois Working…For What Exactly?
After reviewing all the financial activity, the one thing that stood out was how each union classified their payments differently. Some organizations pay Illinois Working Together out of their political action committee funds (PACs) or classify their payments as political activities, implying the services provided by Illinois Working Together are of a political nature and outside typical union business. Other unions consider their payments to Illinois Working Together “non-political”, such as union administration costs or contributions/gifts/grants. So what does Illinois Working Together do exactly? Other than snarky tweets and comments of a political nature, what non-political service is being provided here?
Illinois Working…Against Free Speech?
Consider AFSCME, a labor union that contributed $60,000 to Illinois Working Together back in 2016. There is a case before the Supreme Court, Janus vs AFSCME, that will determine whether public unions can require workers to pay agency fees for union representation even when they do not want representation. From Forbes: Mark Janus is a child support specialist employed by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. He has declined membership in the union, as is his constitutional right, but under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act he’s still is required to pay the union an “agency fee” as a condition of keeping his job. That fee is supposed to cover his share of the union’s expenses outside of politics…His argument is that all public union spending is so entwined with politics that he should not be compelled to subsidize any of it.
When AFSCME pays Illinois Working Together, where does that money come from? It wasn’t paid out of AFSCME’s separate political action committee, an account Janus and other agency fee members aren’t required to fund. It wasn’t classified as political activity either. Rather, the payments are considered contributions/gifts/grants, no different than AFSCME’s $5,000 payments that same year to the ILLINOIS LABOR HISTORY SOCIETY for an AWARDS DINNER SPONSORSHIP and FAITH COALITION FOR THE COMMON GOOD for a FALL BANQUET SPONSOR. Do these contributions/gifts/grants come from Mark Janus’ and all union members’ union dues? If so, doesn’t it stand to reason those same dues then fund Illinois Working Together? Considering the hyper-political characteristics of Illinois Working Together, is it even possible to have any interaction between AFSCME and Illinois Working Together that isn’t “so entwined with politics,” as Janus said?
Considering all the evidence, it seems like Janus has a pretty good case. I’m sure the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is fully aware of this conflict, and many others, as well. If not, perhaps we should be “working together.”