On the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision on Janus, the State Controller’s Office announced that beginning in July, it would stop deducting “fair share fees” from the paychecks of state workers who are not full union members. The fair share fee, or agency fee, is the fee that’s charged to non-union members for the benefits they receive from labor representation. According to the Sacramento Bee, 27 percent of California State employees and about 40 percent of Cal State University employees don’t belong to the unions. For those employees, that’s an annual savings of as much as $1,000.
These percentages, however, don’t give us a preview of the numbers of full union members who may leave the union. An informal poll taken by the Sacramento Bee on its State Worker Facebook group asking whether employees would stay in their union or opt out after the Supreme Court decision showed that about 70 percent of 493 workers said they would stay in their unions. That means 30 percent would opt out.
In Wisconsin, when a 2011 law took away collective bargaining powers from nearly all public-sector unions except over base wage increases no greater than inflation, membership in the statewide teachers’ union and unions for state employees dropped dramatically. Union membership fell again when in 2015 the state enacted right-to-work legislation. All total, nearly 40 percent of union workers in Wisconsin left the unions since 2011.
So how many California public sector workers will actually leave their union? I suspect that the answer is fewer than we think.
Fearing the results of a Friedrichs decision, the California legislature has been passing bills that would make it more difficult for union members to leave their unions. Our colleagues at the California Policy Center have done an excellent job cataloging Anti-Janus legislation. They include:
- Expanding the pool of public employees eligible to join unions – AB 83, SB 201, and AB 3034;
- Making it difficult, if not impossible, for employers to discuss the pros and cons of unionization with employees – SB 285 and AB-2017;
- Precluding local governments from unilaterally honoring employee requests to stop paying union dues – AB 1937 and AB-2049;
- Making employers pay union legal fees if they lose in litigation but not making unions pay employer costs if the unions lose – SB 550;
- Moving the venue for dispute resolution from the courts to Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), which is stacked with pro-union board members – SB 285 and AB 2886.
Joe Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center, told me recently that when Michigan enacted right to work legislation, the expectation was that union members would leave “organically.” That was not the case. It took a long-term concerted education effort to let workers know of their rights. In an opinion piece for USA Today, he wrote, “No union wants to tell people from whom it has been collecting money through the force of law, ‘You don’t have to pay us anymore.’ Fair enough. But Michigan unions didn’t simply refrain from identifying the exits. They actively worked to make leaving difficult and onerous.”
We can count on California’s public unions and the legislators whose campaigns they finance to do the same. That’s why, as Joe Lehman said, “even with the latest court ruling, the fight for worker freedom will continue.”
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president at Pacific Research Institute