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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Public-Employee Unions and the Future

The recession will hit state budgets very hard. In many states, public unions had political influences in difficult budget decisions.  They are not as strong as they once were, but they have not vanished, either.

In June 2019, Daniel DiSalvo wrote:
In its 5-4 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Supreme Court on Wednesday declared unconstitutional laws that require public employees to pay “agency fees” to unions that they refuse to join. The court’s ruling, will not, as critics fear, deliver a “death blow” to unions. But it will restore to thousands of public employees the right to decide which political causes to support with their money.
 He picks up the story at National Affairs:
The reality is that many public workers like their union, especially their local affiliate. Distaste for union politics increases, surveys suggest, as one moves up from the local to the national federation. It is also important to recall that public unions in the 22 states affected by Janus are starting from a position of strength — their membership is large and has been stable for decades. Their task now is to preserve membership, which is easier than trying to build it up. To remain important political players, the unions need only to hold on to as many of their current members as possible and do a respectable job in recruiting new hires.
Another reason membership declines are likely to be gradual is that public workers are poorly informed about their rights under law. Many public employees say they do not support agency fees, but many also do not know that they have been eliminated. According to a 2018 poll by Education Next, only 34% of teachers supported agency fees. Yet, according to a YouGov poll of 1,000 teachers in 2019, more than 75% of the teachers hadn't heard of the Janus case, and 52% didn't know that this ruling ended agency fees for public-sector workers. In many workplaces, the general supposition is that if it is unionized, everyone must be a union member. Human-resource departments often just hand out union cards to new hires to be signed with other benefits materials. The complex legalese of agency fees, exclusive representation, chargeable expenses, and other terms governing public labor relations are foreign to many workers.
Furthermore, if public employees are hearing any talk about their legal rights, it is usually coming from the unions. Public unions had ample warning that agency fees were in jeopardy. Prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000 in 2012 and Harris v. Quinn in 2014, and a 4-4 tie in a nearly identical case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in 2016, strongly indicated the direction the Court was likely to go after Neil Gorsuch replaced Antonin Scalia on the bench.
Public unions mobilized to reinforce solidarity within their ranks and convert as many agency-fee payers to full members as possible before the Court ruled. Prior to Janus, AFSCME conducted 600,000 face-to-face meetings with workers it represents. Other unions updated their membership records, polled public workers to learn their concerns, and encouraged members to sign "enhanced" union cards, the fine print of which made it more difficult for members to opt out of paying dues. Such efforts paid off, at least in the short run. While the unions lost agency-fee payers, they increased their membership in some cases. SEIU president Mary Kay Henry said that "Janus was seized on by us and other parts of the labor movement as an opportunity to re-educate and activate our members in a much bigger fight that we're all committed to having." Indeed, the wave of teacher strikes since the decision has been interpreted as a method of recruiting and retaining members.