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I am a state worker in Illinois. In my line of work, I help people who are unable to care for themselves because they have severe mental illnesses. They live at the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna.

My typical day includes making sure six individuals are fed, groomed, toileted and kept safe from harm. I’m proud of the work I do, and I’m proud to work with colleagues who take their jobs seriously.

But I’m not proud of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that claims to represent me.

AFSCME leaders recently announced the results of a strike authorization vote. They said 81 percent of voting members authorized them to call a strike and that “right around” 80 percent of state workers had voted.

The union claims to have its members’ interests at heart when asking us to “stand tall together” in support of a strike. But I see AFSCME’s desire to strike as being in only the best interest of the union. It was the union’s desire to strike, in fact, that had me ultimately decide to opt out of union membership and become a “fair share payer” instead.

Although I am no longer a member of the union, I’m still forced to pay the cost of AFSCME’s representation in my employment, but I do not pay an added amount for the union’s support of politicians or political activities. My extra money can now be used to support candidates and activities of my own choosing — or stay in my pocket.

State-employed AFSCME workers should consider these key points as union leaders head us toward a strike:

• State workers who refuse to cross the picket line will lose up to $8,000 every month in wages and state benefit contributions. During a strike, striking workers will have to pay all insurance and benefit costs themselves — while also receiving no paychecks for an indeterminate length of time.

• Illinois law could allow striking workers to be replaced. Your job might not be there when the strike is over.

• The union can punish AFSCME members who cross the picket line and go to work. The union can fine them any amount decided on through internal union procedure. But fair share payers such as myself cannot be fined or punished for continuing to go to work.

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Naturally, I enjoy the added benefits provided by AFSCME’s contract with the state. But I never asked the union to enter into that contract as a condition of my employment.

Illinois state workers are the highest-paid state workers in the nation when adjusting for cost of living, and we receive health care benefits at a cost virtually unheard of in the private sector. Our compensation package is more than fair, and AFSCME should acknowledge that.

That’s another reason I don’t want to strike. Illinois is in a terrible financial mess. AFSCME doesn't seem to care, though, and the union’s arrogance could end up costing its members dearly. In addition, a strike could seriously impair the care given to individuals at Choate and other centers throughout the state.

As AFSCME urges a strike, state workers need to know that all contract rights and protections remain available to them as fair share payers.

Fair share payers can cross AFSCME picket lines without punishment, continue to receive full wages and benefits during AFSCME strikes, and sleep easy knowing their job will not be taken away when the strike is over.

Any AFSCME member can become a fair share payer by just following the prompts at www.afscme.solutions. You’ll be glad you did.

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Jim Andersen is an Illinois government worker at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna.

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