When the Supreme Court issued the Janus decision this summer there was a fear on the left that it would be the apocalypse for unions. And while there definitely has been a decline in union rolls, the unions themselves claim it hasn’t been that bad, especially among the powerful teacher’s unions. From Politico:
Nine union leaders in eight states interviewed by POLITICO reported modest but anticipated drops in membership since the court decision, in addition to the loss of thousands of non-members who used to pay mandatory union fees…
But firm numbers on current membership remain difficult to come by. Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers declined to provide estimates for how many of their members have dropped out since the court ruling. Combined, they have more than 4.6 million members and each lost more than 85,000 non-members paying mandatory fees, according to Department of Labor filings…
Some other reports about membership have come out. Anti-union blogger Mike Antonucci, citing leaked information, reported last week that NEA has lost 17,000 members since April — a small fraction of the union’s 3 million members as of its last public report in August 2017.
The National Education Association told POLITICO that it couldn’t confirm those losses. Both national teachers unions said they’re still tabulating figures from state and local affiliates.
You would think if the numbers were really holding up this well the unions would be eager to get the exact figures out there. The fact that the unions seem hesitant to release those figures suggests we may not be getting the complete story. Also, there is some evidence unions are losing members and feeling pressure. Lifezette spoke to a nonprofit in the northwest which claims unions in the region have lost 25,000 members since Janus:
The Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, found that unions in the northwest alone have since lost 25,000 members.
The group’s research also found that decline in membership accounts for a $27 million annual loss in union revenue.
“We have multiple data sources that we’re drawing from,” Maxford Nelson, the organization’s labor policy director, told LifeZette by phone. “We created a website for folks to download resignation forms for their various unions. And we’re focused on Washington, Oregon and California. We have full-time staff and outreach efforts in all three states.”
The group’s website allows visitors to put in their information and download a resignation form for their specific union, Nelsen added. But that doesn’t provide a perfect measure; the forms might not be mailed after they’re downloaded, or they might not be successfully processed by the union.
These aren’t hard numbers and, again, the unions aren’t offering to show anyone those, but it does seem as if there has been some attrition. Still, it’s not that immediate wipeout that many predicted. Janus is still fairly new and some people may not be aware that they have the option to opt-out of union dues. Even when they find out they won’t all abandon the union at once. But over time, opting out will become more common which probably means the trendline for the next few years is going to be further decline.