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Top Unions Lost Nearly Quarter of a Million Members After Court Struck Down Mandatory Membership

Report shows powerful public sector unions have stepped up lobbying efforts amid member exodus

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten / Getty Images
• September 28, 2022 2:50 pm

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The nation's four largest government unions lost more than 200,000 members after the Supreme Court ruled that public sector workers could opt out of union membership, according to a report released Wednesday.

In the four years since the landmark Janus v. AFSCME ruling, the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union, and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees lost almost 219,000 union members. The report, published by the Commonwealth Foundation, found that the Supreme Court decision escalated a decades-long decline in dues-paying members at the public sector unions.

Despite the drop in membership, labor groups have scored legal and political victories that are buoying their political power. Union bosses scored a major victory last year in Virginia, where they attained collective bargaining rights for government workers for the first time through the then-Democratic-controlled state house. The Missouri Supreme Court last year voided a law that would have required unions to have regular recertification votes and annual reports on political activity. Colorado, meanwhile, passed a law in 2020 that unionized its 30,000 state government employees.

Overall, the Commonwealth Foundation downgraded five states in their annual report card, which measures workers' freedoms across the country. Jennifer Stefano, vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, said the report shows there is still much progress to be made on expanding workers' rights—even as unions lose members.

"Government unions continue to exert undue influence on policymakers, advancing controversial causes counter to the interests and beliefs of their membership, while creating barriers that prevent civil servants from making their own decision about whether or not to associate with unions," Stefano told the Washington Free Beacon.

The decline in union membership comes as Democrats in Congress push for the PRO Act, which would limit employment for independent contractors and put an end to "right-to-work" laws in 28 states that ban union membership as a term of employment. The bill, which passed in the House, is supported by President Joe Biden, who refers to himself as the "most pro-union president" in history.

The top government unions have made passage of the PRO Act a top priority: The NEA, AFT, and AFSCME were the top three public political spending unions in the 2020 election—totaling $80 million that overwhelmingly went to Democratic candidates and groups.

AFSCME lost a total of 15,562 union members since the Janus decision. The NEA lost 84,980, SEIU lost 78,295, and AFT lost 39,773. The unions also had a significant number of members opt out of paid dues, as they lost 379,184 fee payers in total.

Rebecca Friedrichs, a public school teacher who challenged mandatory union membership at the Supreme Court in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, said workers will continue to opt out of membership as they learn more about their rights.

"I was abused by my unions for 28 years, while they pilfered money from my paychecks and picked on me for putting my students ahead of union politics," Friedrichs told the Free Beacon. "In every major decision the union faced in my career, they prioritized adults over children and valued their own pocketbooks more than the best interests of teachers."

The NEA, AFT, AFSCME, and SEIU did not respond to requests for comment.

Published under: AFSCME, AFT, Janus, NEA, SEIU, Unions