For some public employees, union membership feels compulsory. It seems everyone they work with is a member of the union, and therefore feel compelled to join as well. However, union membership is truly a choice thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME in June 2018. Because of the decision, public employees across the country can now choose to be a member or nonmember, and unlike before, nonmembers cannot be required to pay dues or fees to the union without their consent.
For workers who decide membership is right for them, they might be surprised to learn about the activities their union engages in that are not germane to its representational activities or the benefits it offers its members. Some of the largest unions in Maine, including the Maine Education Association and the Maine Service Employees Association (SEIU Local 1989), engage in a fair amount of political activity of which their members may not be aware or support.
Before we dive into the specifics, it’s important to note the limitations of this data. The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 requires unions representing private-sector employees to file disclosures annually with the Office of Labor Management Standards. These reports include information about the union’s membership, dues and fees, and accounting of how the organization spent its money over the past year.
As noted by the Freedom Foundation, the information contained in a union’s LM-2 report is only as trustworthy as the union reporting it. Some unions file obviously inaccurate reports that include rounded or approximated figures, while others report no change in union membership for several years in a row. In addition, state or local union affiliates representing only public employees do not have to file LM-2 reports, which can make it difficult to discern membership totals for unions in certain states. In addition, when a union files an LM-2 report, it means, by definition, that some private-sector employees are included in its membership totals, which makes it difficult to isolate and identify changes in the union’s public-sector membership rate.
According to the LM-2s filed by the Maine Education Association between 2017 and 2020, the organization spent more than $2.8 million to influence public policy in Maine. The organization routinely spends between $600,000 and $800,000 annually on politics and lobbying. Over the four-year period, the organization spent as much as $750,000 in 2019 on politics and lobbying and as low as $633,000 in 2018.
The Maine Service Employees Association (SEIU Local 1989) also engages in a considerable amount of political spending, though not to the same extent as the state’s largest teacher’s union. According to the LM-2s filed by the Maine Service Employees Association between 2017 and 2019 (the organization’s 2020 annual report has not yet been filed), the group spent more than $700,000 on politics and lobbying. Based on its recent annual reports, the organization spends between $200,000 and $300,000 annually on these activities. In 2019, the organization reported spending a high of more than $274,000 in 2019 and a low of $207,000 in 2018 over the period.
Both the Maine Education Association and the Maine Service Employees Association (SEIU Local 1989) are top donors to Rebuild Maine, a political action committee that is hyperactive in Maine politics. More information about Rebuild Maine’s involvement in Maine political campaigns can be found here. In addition, both organizations are members of “Maine Votes” whose partners include the Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Conservation Voters, the Maine People’s Alliance and Planned Parenthood Maine Action fund. Rebuild Maine calls itself the organization in Maine that “anchors independent expenditure activity in legislative races.” In short, the organization exclusively supports progressive political candidates and causes in Maine politics. My guess is many school teachers and state employees working in executive branch departments do not know the dues and fees they pay to their union are being used in this manner, to support political causes with which they may disagree.
Curious if your union engages in extensive political spending with which you disagree? Use the Union Search tool on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website to learn more.