Teachers Unions Claim They Are Beating Back Janus’s Threat, but It May Take More Than a Year to Really Know
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It has been nearly two months since the U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case, which ended the practice of public-sector unions collecting agency fees from non-members. What has been the outcome so far?
According to the unions, there has been a surge in membership. Last month, Andrew Pallotta, President of the New York State United Teachers, stated that in the first two weeks after the decision, 9,000 members reaffirmed their commitment to the union, with only nine members choosing to drop out. Alex Caputo-Pearl, President of the United Teachers Los Angeles, informed a gathering of union activists that the number of non-members had been reduced by half. Frank Flynn, President of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Healthcare Professionals, claimed that "well over 90 percent" of his members had recommitted.
Unfortunately, we do not have any independent sources to verify these claims, so we cannot evaluate their accuracy. However, it is worth noting that many unions, including the National Education Association, are making budget cuts and reducing staff, which raises doubts about their belief in increased membership. Even within pro-union circles, there is skepticism surrounding these reports.
Getting reliable confirmation of the current situation may take over a year, as it relies on union financial disclosure reports. In the meantime, we can only rely on recent history, which indicates that agency fees have been the main driver of teacher union growth for at least the past decade.
In the 2006-07 school year, the NEA had 3,167,251 members. By 2016-17, this number had decreased to 2,981,200, resulting in a loss of over 186,000 members. However, when we divide the NEA’s 50 state affiliates into two groups – those with agency fees and those without – a different story emerges.
Firstly, the states that implemented agency fees accounted for two-thirds of the NEA’s total membership. Over the course of ten years, membership in these states grew by more than 70,000, representing an increase of almost 3.7 percent. These gains occurred despite the recession and significant teacher layoffs.
In the states without agency fees, membership declined by nearly 253,000, equating to a decrease of 20.5 percent.
Interestingly, the membership losses in just two states, Michigan and Wisconsin, where agency fees were abolished during this time, outweighed the total gains experienced by all the states that continued to collect agency fees.
It is possible that a widespread sense of solidarity among members could sustain membership numbers. However, this alone would not solve the unions’ problems. The decision to remain in or leave the union is no longer a one-time choice. Teachers and other public employees now have the option to make this decision at any time. The unions will need to maintain a consistent level of enthusiasm and commitment from their members. It may take some time, but the numbers will ultimately provide the answers.