union membership decline

Government Union Membership Plummets Post Janus

September 28, 2022, Harrisburg, Pa. – The nation’s four largest government unions lost almost 219,000 members combined after the U.S. Supreme Court ended forced unionism for government workers in Janus v.AFSCME (2018), according to a new report released today by the Commonwealth Foundation.

The unions lost nearly 380,000 fee-paying members immediately following the Janus, with a “net loss of nearly 219,000 union members between 2017 (right before the Janus ruling) and 2021,” according to the report. “Though the major national government unions have re-gained ground, they are still working against an historic decline lately exacerbated by Janus.”

While membership may have fallen dramatically, government unions have only increased their political clout in several states, according to a Commonwealth Foundation analysis of the labor law landscape in all 50 states. Union executives and pro-union lawmakers have erected new barriers in several states to make it difficult for government workers to decline membership, and they are mounting “aggressive campaigns to unionize new workers.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court defeat, unions have scored major legislative victories that have caused five states to fall in the Commonwealth Foundation’s Labor Report Card analysis since 2017. Only one state has seen its worker freedom ranking improve over that time.

“Even with the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, government union labor executives and their allies in government are not going to make it easy for public servants to break free of union control,” said Commonwealth Foundation Executive Vice President Jennifer Stefano.

“Union executives have transferred vast sums of money from workers’ wages to politicians who create roadblocks to worker freedom,” she said. “To ensure that the promise of Janus is realized, lawmakers across the country must stand up to ensure that every civil servant has the right to choose whether or not to be associated with a union—they should not be forced to join a union or fund their political agendas.”

Scott Walker, former Governor of Wisconsin and President of Young America’s Foundation, commented that “Big Labor’s membership may be waning, but government union bosses continue to exert undue influence to advance policies that maintain their grip on power at the expense of workers and taxpayers. As the Commonwealth Foundation’s new labor report shows, policymakers must be vigilant to safeguard worker freedom and protect individual rights to free association.”

State Labor Law Status and Grades

The Commonwealth Foundation report includes state changes in government collective bargaining laws since 2020 and grades each state based on state-level laws, administrative codes, and regulations relating to public sector collective bargaining. States received an “A” through “F” letter grade. The following graph shows up-or-down changes in state grades.

New MexicoDD-D-

Additional Findings

  • Twenty-four states legally require government agencies to bargain collectively with labor unions. An additional 20 states permit collective bargaining.
  • Twenty-seven states provide for binding arbitration, either as a mandatory measure or by union request.
  • Three states—Florida, Iowa, and Wisconsin—require incumbent government unions to go through a recertification election or process. Most government unions nationwide achieved certification in the 1960s or 1970s and have never faced an election.
  • Only two states allow multiple unions to negotiate compensation and work conditions for public sector workers.
  • Thirteen states—two more since 2019—now have some form of paycheck protection.
  • Union dues are implicitly political because they can fund ideologically partisan issues and independent expenditure committees, or SuperPACs. Four states prohibit unions from using taxpayer-funded government payroll systems to collect political contributions or funds for use on political purposes.
  • Twelve states require union contract negotiations to be open to the public while still generally allowing agencies to go into executive session to determine negotiation strategy.

The complete Commonwealth Foundation report, The Battle for Worker Freedom in the States, can be found here.