American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sees 6% drop in workers paying fees

April 22, 2019

One of the nation’s largest public-sector labor unions has seen its finances take a hit over the last 10 months after the Supreme Court ruled it could no longer force workers to pay dues, allowing tens of thousands of people to stop paying.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said it had feared a bigger drop and considered the 6% decline in workers paying fees to be a victory.

But even that single-digit decrease means millions of dollars less to fund AFSCME’s activities.

The drop came after the Supreme Court ruled in June in Janus v. AFSCME that public-sector unions are inherently engaged in political activity when they advocate for issues such as smaller class sizes or hiring more government workers. Forcing workers to pay dues, even if they aren’t members, amounts to making them pay for speech they may disagree with, the justices ruled in a 5-4 decision that overturned a four-decade-old precedent.

Unions warned of a major hit to their ability to represent workers, fearing a massive abandonment of fee-payers.

Some of that has played out.

In its latest filing with the Labor Department, submitted in March, AFSCME said it represented 1.33 million workers. That’s down from 1.41 million workers in its 2018 filing.

“Though this represents a bottom-line decrease of 6% thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision, it crushed union analysts’ expectations, which anticipated a loss upwards of 30%,” AFSCME said last month, noting the union attracted 9,000 new members.

Jarrett Skorup, communications director at the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy, calculated AFSCME’s loss could be closer to 8% without counting retirees. He said the loss will hurt the union’s spending over time.

“When you lose 8% of your membership, that is going to be a very big deal to them and to their revenue,” Mr. Skorup said, adding it could have a “huge effect on their political power.”

Courtlyn Roser-Jones, a law professor at Ohio State University, said she’ll be watching to see what happens over the next few years.

“There is more of an incentive to become a free rider over time,” she said. “Next year you might see another 6%.”

One of unions’ arguments for the fees was that unions negotiate collective-bargaining agreements for all workers, so those not paying for that benefit would be “free riders.”

AFSCME was the union involved in last year’s court case, but it’s not the only public-sector union bracing for a hit. Others such as American Federation of Teachers also could suffer.

They have not yet reported their 2019 numbers.

Patrick Semmons, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said some public-sector union members who want to stop paying dues or fees have run into roadblocks.

Some states such as New Jersey enacted laws in advance of the Supreme Court ruling limiting the window for government workers to stop paying the fees, preventing them from taking quick advantage of the high court’s decision.

Some unions have resisted fee-payers’ efforts to stop, saying their current contracts require payment.

“There is no question there are workers now that want to exercise their Janus rights and have been blocked from doing so,” Mr. Semmons said. “More time will help that.”

Mark Janus, the former Illinois state employee who challenged the union fees, said he’s now working to help people like him stop paying unions they don’t support.

He retired from his state job and now works for the Liberty Justice Center, which helped represent him during his legal battle.

He said he is speaking with union members across the country to let them know their rights. He said his organization has filed more than eight lawsuits in five states to help enforce the ruling.

“I knew there was going to be some pushback. I knew the unions weren’t going to sit down or roll over,” Mr. Janus told The Washington Times.