A look at Janus’ effect on public-sector union membership

On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public-sector unions cannot require non-members to pay agency fees to cover the costs of non-political union activities. Let’s take a look at the potential effect Janus has had on membership.

Broad effects: The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are the nation’s two largest public-sector labor unions. Together, they represent about 4.3 million public-sector workers — roughly 20 percent of the nation’s total public-sector workforce.

  • According to federal reports, total NEA membership in 2017 was 3.1 million, including 3 million dues-paying members and just under 100,000 agency fee payers. In 2018, membership was 3 million, all dues-paying members — a net decrease of about 2.4 percent.
  • In 2017, total AFSCME membership was about 1.4 million, including 1.3 million dues-paying members and about 100,000 agency fee payers. In 2018, total AFSCME membership decreased to about 1.3 million, nearly all of it dues-paying members — a decrease of about 6 percent.

Challenges when assessing membership changes’: There is no consensus opinion when it comes to assessing Janus‘ effect on union membership rates. Generally speaking, groups that support the Janus ruling tend to point to figures suggesting declines in public-sector union membership. Unions tend to cite figures suggesting minimal effects on membership. This difference of opinion is a consequence of the complexities involved in measuring union membership rates. What makes tallying union membership so difficult?

  • There is little existing research: The most frequently cited sources base their figures on the Current Population Survey, a sample survey of roughly 60,000 households. These are estimates, not precise measurements. Other existing research generally deals with individual states, making it difficult to compare states because of differing methodologies.
  • There are no uniform federal reporting requirements: Under federal law, unions that represent public-sector employees exclusively are not required to file financial reports with the U.S. Department of Labor. Public-sector unions that represent some private-sector employees are subject to reporting requirements. This results in gaps in the data.
  • Unions’ organizational structures complicate counting efforts: Many unions are organized at local levels. But these local unions often belong to state associations, which in turn often belong to national-level organizations. For example, a local school district teachers’ union might belong to a state-level affiliate of the National Education Association. Any attempt to count members must take this fact into account or risk double-counting members.

Ballotpedia’s approach to this question: Earlier this week, Ballotpedia published a methodology describing how we will navigate these complexities and produce our own membership data set, which we expect to publish in full by the end of this summer. For a more complete discussion of this topic, see our methodology article or check out our webinar, where we present some of our preliminary findings.

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 101 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

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Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of legislative actions on relevant bills since the beginning of the year. Bills are listed in alphabetical order, first by state and then by bill number.

  • California AB314: This bill would require employers to grant employees paid time for certain union activities.
    • Senate Labor, Public Employment, and Retirement Committee reported favorably. Bill and sent back to Senate Appropriations Committee June 26.
  • Rhode Island H5259: This bill would authorize unions to impose fees on non-members for administrative matters.
    • House approved substitute bill June 26.
  • Rhode Island S0712: This bill would authorize unions to impose fees on non-members for administrative matters. It would require employers to notify unions within five days of hiring new employees. It would also require employees to file written notice with the state controller in order to discontinue dues payroll deductions.
    • Placed on House calendar June 27.