Ballotpedia releases research on public-sector union membership

The Daily Brew
Welcome to the Thursday, September 19, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Ballotpedia releases research on public-sector union membership
  2. Local Roundup
  3. Register for our September 25 briefing on 2020 ballot measures

Ballotpedia releases research on public-sector union membership

Nearly 50% of the country’s public-sector union employees are located in five states, according to a new Ballotpedia study released this week. This finding is based on data for 228 of the most prominent public-sector labor unions nationwide as selected based on media reports, consultation with local and state experts, and our own research efforts. In total, we counted 5,654,109 members in those 228 public-sector unions.

Throughout 2019, Ballotpedia researched and analyzed the membership, finances, and political spending of public-sector unions. We’ll be sharing these findings in the weeks ahead in Union Station—our newsletter covering the latest developments in public-sector union policy. 

Since it is nearly impossible to collect comprehensive data on membership of every public-sector union, we identified the most prominent public-sector unions in each state and determined their membership. This included state-level affiliates of national unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

The Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME in June 2018 that public-sector unions cannot require non-member employees to pay agency fees covering the costs of non-political union activities. This decision overturned precedent established by the Court in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education in 1977. That ruling held that non-union public employees could be required to pay labor union fees as long as they weren’t used for ideological or political purposes. 

Among the 228 unions, these five states had the highest number of public-sector union members: 

  • California: 811,483 members belonging to six large unions—approximately 14% of the nationwide total.

  • New York: 808,669 members belonging to five unions—14% of the nationwide total.

  • Illinois: 342,518 members belonging to five unions—6% of the nationwide total.

  • New Jersey: 324,750 members belonging to four unions—6% of the nationwide total.

  • Pennsylvania: 324,411 members belonging to five unions—6% of the nationwide total.

There are 2,611,831 public-sector union members in those five states which accounts for 46% of the nationwide total. There are 664,180 public-sector union members in the 25 states with the fewest members, about 12% of the nationwide total.  

To learn more about our methodology, including a discussion of existing research and various challenges involved in collecting data, please review this article. For a complete breakdown of our membership data, including links to state-specific data sets, click the link below.

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Local Roundup

At Ballotpedia, we provide election coverage of all officeholders in the nation’s 100 largest cities—including mayors, city council members, and other municipal officers. We also cover every election on the ballot in these cities, such as county officials and local ballot measures.

Here’s our weekly summary of the local news we’re covering. Email me to suggest some interesting local election coverage in your area—I’d love to hear about it!


Aretta Baldon and Davida Huntley advanced from a nine-candidate field September 17 in a special election for a seat on the Atlanta Public Schools school board. Baldon finished first with 31% of the vote and Huntley was second with 25%. The two will meet in a runoff election on October 15. 

The seat became vacant after Byron Amos—who had served on the board since 2011—resigned in January 2019 to run for a seat on the Atlanta City Council. The winner of the special election will fill Amos’ unexpired term, which ends in 2021. With only eight current board members, the school board has had at least one vote—a plan to rate district schools—end up in a 4-4 tie. 


Boston is holding primary elections September 24 in four of nine city council districts and for the four at-large seats on its 13-member city council. The top two finishers in each district race—and the top 8 finishers in the at-large race—will advance to the November 5 general election. Fifteen candidates—including the four incumbents—are running for the at-large seats. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median population of the nine Boston City Council districts was 71,554, based on 2013 estimates. 

Three of the four district races holding primaries are open-seat races; Ten incumbents are running for re-election and four of them are unopposed. Boston’s mayor—Marty Walsh—was last elected in 2017 and is not up for election until 2021. Members of Boston’s City Council serve two-year terms.

Memphis, Tennessee

Early voting began September 13 in the city’s October 3 municipal elections. Incumbent Jim Strickland, former Mayor Willie Herenton, County Commissioner Tamara Sawyer, and nine other candidates are running for mayor. Strickland defeated then-incumbent A.C. Wharton to win his first term in 2015.

Memphis voters will also elect all 13 members of the city council, the city court clerk, three municipal court judges, and decide one local ballot measure. Nine incumbent city council members and all three municipal court judges are running for re-election. The Memphis city charter does not provide for runoffs so whichever candidate receives the most votes in any race will win outright. Early voting continues through September 28. 

Register for our September 25 briefing on 2020 ballot measures

It may feel a bit early, but the process of certifying ballot measures which will go before voters next year is well underway. Thirty-nine statewide ballot measures have already been certified for the 2020 ballot in 18 states. In the five even-numbered years from 2010 to 2018, an average of 172 statewide measures were decided by voters.

Join me and Ballot Measures Project Director Josh Altic for a free briefing on this topic at 11 a.m. Central Time September 25. We’ll discuss the ballot measures already certified for 2020 ballots, the most notable measures likely to be certified next, and the most interesting trends and topics Ballotpedia experts are expecting. 

Some of the issues we’ll cover are the veto referendum deciding whether Colorado will join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which states may see ballot initiatives on redistricting, and how the increase in voter turnout in the 2018 general elections may affect the number of initiatives that reach the ballot in California.

It’s never too early to think about this important component of the 2020 elections so I hope you can join us.