Despite Obstacles to Resignation, Union Rolls Decline

Imagine having to pay a middleman just to keep your job.

More than 5 million government workers in America had to do just that—until last June, when the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that government employees don’t have to pay union “fair share” fees. Now, if the union does not represent workers’ best interests, they can decline membership without paying a fee.

That decision changed the game for tens of thousands of workers. New 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics has just revealed a significant decline in government union membership.

Across the country, public sector union rolls declined by 49,000, reaching the lowest unionization rate (33.9 percent) since the Bureau started recording in 1983. Pennsylvania government union membership also decreased by nearly 1,000 from 2017-2018.

Chart: Government Union Membership Trends, 1983-2018

However, union membership changes only tell part of the story. Firstly, it averages data for all of 2018, including the six months before the Janus ruling, and therefore reveals the start of a trend.

Secondly, and more importantly, these numbers would have been even more substantial—but many public-sector workers don’t know their rights or are barred from resigning.

Some unions have not told workers that, through Janus, they don’t have to pay fees if they reject union membership. That’s outrageous, according to Mark Negra, a member of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). At a recent PLCB meeting, Negra made a motion to inform state liquor store employees about their options. However, he was blocked by another board member who decided to keep workers in the dark.

Even if workers know about the Janus ruling and want to resign from the union, they may be trapped. Pennsylvania law allows for “maintenance of membership” in union contracts, which prohibits members from resigning until the last 15 days of their multi-year contracts—meaning workers can be forced to pay dues—for several years—to an organization they don’t support.

As a result, Pennsylvanians are fighting for the right to resign in court.

A former Lehigh County social worker, Francisco Molina, is suing his union for denying his multiple attempts to resign and for continuing to forcibly take money from his paycheck. Likewise, three state workers have filed a class-action lawsuit against their union, which blocked their resignation attempts.

Pennsylvania workers shouldn’t have to sue for the right to freely join or leave an organization.

Luckily, legislators plan to introduce legislation requiring government workplaces to inform workers of their Janus rights.

Having the choice to join and leave organizations is an essential American freedom. Ensuring workers know and can exercise those rights is crucial for protecting that freedom.