Data Suggest 500,000 Government Employees Have Stopped Bankrolling Unions

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I) and other Big Labor politicians fear millions of public servants will ultimately exercise their now-recognized personal freedom to quit the union and cut off all financial support thanks to their Janus rights, won at the U.S. Supreme Court. /Image: Brendan Smialowski, Agence France-Presse, Getty Images.

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited every government employer across the country from cutting deals with Big Labor officials to fire civil servants simply for refusal to pay dues or fees to a union they don’t want. The High Court ruled that government-sector forced union dues and fees violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. (Janus .v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, a case argued and won on behalf of independent-minded Illinois civil servant Mark Janus by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney Bill Messenger.)

At the time the Janus ruling was announced, the labor laws of 21 states explicitly authorized the extraction of forced union dues and fees from a wide range of public employees as a condition of working for the taxpayer.

Even before the Supreme Court released its opinion, Organized Labor observers recognized that a pro-free speech decision in Janus could potentially mean an ongoing annual loss of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in coerced union dues and fees for government union bosses. It was in fearful anticipation of such an outcome that Big Labor Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) delivered a lengthy floor speech denouncing the case on November 1, 2017, before Janus had even been heard by the High Court!

To avoid major financial losses, Organized Labor knew it would have to persuade, by hook or by crook, vast numbers of workers to support unions voluntarily who, before Janus, were only forking over dues or fees because they had to in order to keep their jobs.

But a quick analysis of the 2017 and 2019 state union membership statistics posted on the Union Membership and Coverage Data Base, a web site launched and maintained by labor economists Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson, indicates that Big Labor has failed to convert conscripted dues and fee payers into voluntary members post-Janus.

The Hirsch-Macpherson data, which are compiled from estimates furnished by the U.S. Labor Department’s Current Population Survey, show that, in the 21 states that statutorily authorized and promoted forced financial support for all or nearly all government unions pre-Janus, there were 5.45 million unionized civil servants in 2017. Under state laws governing them at the time, these employees had to pay dues or fees to the union wielding monopoly-bargaining privileges in their workplace, or be fired.

Union bosses and their allied politicians in many jurisdictions have been doing everything they can to prevent public servants who were union members against their will prior to Janus from exercising their now-recognized right not to support Big Labor financially. As a consequence of this obstruction, it is undoubtedly the case that vast numbers of unionized government employees continue to have money siphoned out of their paychecks and directed to union treasuries despite their wishes.

Janus immediately freed civil servants who were already nonmembers to cease forking over any money to Big Labor. And by 2019, according to Hirsch-Macpherson data, the number of coerced government union members/fee-payers in the 21 states with wide-ranging public-sector compulsory unionism pre-Janus had fallen by almost half a million from its 2017 level.

The bottom line is, in 2018 and 2019, government union bosses convinced a net total of zero forced-fee paying nonmembers in Big Labor stronghold states to become voluntary union members. Public-sector union membership actually fell, and when the membership decline is combined with previous nonmembers who can longer be forced to pay union fees to keep their jobs, it amounts to a 9% decline post-Janus.

Currently, the Right to Work Foundation is litigating, on its own or in partnership with others, 28 separate cases on behalf of independent-minded civil servants who have been completely or partially unable to exercise their Janus rights without going to court.  An additional 58 Janus-related cases are being litigated by non-Foundation lawyers.

Right to Work supporters are optimistic that, as these cases progress, many Janus-circumvention schemes will be abandoned under pressure or blocked by judicial orders, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of additional freedom-loving civil servants will be encouraged to assert their constitutional right not to pay for union-boss advocacy.