Major Government Unions Lose Over 200,000 Members

Major Government Unions Lose Over 200,000 Members
Mark Janus, the plaintiff in Janus vs. AFSCME, speaks to supporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Feb. 26, 2018. (Dan McCaleb/The Center Square)

The top four public labor unions in the United States lost hundreds of thousands of members since a 2018 Supreme Court case that ruled government employees could not be forced to pay a union to keep their job, a new report shows that.

The Commonwealth Foundation released the report, which found that the top four public labor unions— AFT, AFSCME, NEA, and SEIU—lost nearly 219,000 members altogether since the Janus v. AFSCME ruling.

“The Janus decision to end forced unionism for government workers accelerated a long-term decline in membership,” the report said. “In response, government unions are conducting aggressive campaigns to unionize new workers with recent successes in Virginia and Colorado.”

The loss of members, though, has not been as drastic as was predicted by some when the Supreme Court first issued the ruling in 2018.

“I think there were some groups on both sides who expected more,” said Nathan Benefield, senior vice president at the Commonwealth Foundation. “I think our predictions were more cautious. We did this in Michigan … but it took several years to educate people before we saw big changes in membership.”

Those successes for unions have come in part because of unions’ lobbying efforts at the state level in response to the court decision. For example, unions got a ban on collective bargaining lifted in Virginia, which has led to local governments around the state unionizing. In Colorado, unions formalized collective bargaining for some workers. In other states, unions have suffered policy losses.

“You can see some significant shifts happening in individual states,” said Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation.

Other groups say unions have doubled down recruitment but some of their tactics have backfired. Max Nelsen, director of labor policy at the Freedom Foundation, said unions “have pulled out all the stops to institute other coercive and deceptive dues collection practices, even going so far as to forge employees’ signatures on union membership forms.

“Unions and their political allies in government have responded furiously to the Supreme Court’s landmark workers’ rights ruling in Janus v. AFSCME,” Nelsen said. “Unfortunately for them, we know from our daily interactions with public employees that people are consistently infuriated by unions’ heavy-handed and unethical practices and, as the data shows, it’s costing them members. It would be better for everyone if government unions moderated and sought to persuade employees to join voluntarily on the merits, but they’ve shown that they’re just too ideologically leftist and too wedded to power politics to change willingly.”

Another key criticism of unions has been their habit of favoring Democratic policies and politicians. Critics say that makes their collection of dues and efforts to grow their membership inherently political.

“Union dues are implicitly political because they can fund ideologically partisan issues and independent expenditure committees, or SuperPACs,” the Commonwealth Foundation said. “Four states prohibit unions from using taxpayer-funded government payroll systems to collect political contributions or funds for use on political purposes.”

The report also graded states based on their union policies, with right-leaning policies receiving higher grades. Multiple states saw significant changes in recent years.

“Three states experienced major grade changes since our 2019 report. Virginia dropped from ‘A+’ to ‘C’ for instituting collective bargaining, while Arkansas jumped from ‘C’ to ‘A+’ for banning it,” the report said. “Missouri’s comprehensive labor reforms were officially struck down, moving the state back down from “B” to ‘C.’”

By Casey Harper

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