Freedom Foundation

Public school employee union membership in Washington drops

Membership in the second-largest union representing public school employees in Washington state has declined 11.2 percent since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME, federal reports show.

According to LM-2 reports filed annually with the U.S. Department of Labor, the Public School Employees of Washington/Service Employees International Union Local 1948 (PSE) had 31,823 financial supporters as of August 2017. By August of 2019, however, that number had fallen to 28,264.

While the Washington Education Association is the state’s largest union of public school employees, its membership is comprised primarily of teachers and certificated staff. The bulk of PSE’s members, on the other hand, are non-teaching classified employees, such as bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers and paraeducators.

PSE’s loss of 3,559 members from 2017 to 2019 is all the more noteworthy considering the number of classified public school employees in Washington increased by nearly 7 percent over this same period.

The decline was precipitated by Janus, in which the Supreme Court struck down state laws, like those in Washington, requiring public employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, effectively extending right-to-work protections to these employees for the first time.

After the ruling, the Freedom Foundation launched a comprehensive and ongoing outreach campaign to help public employees in Washington, including those represented by PSE, understand and exercise their First Amendments rights as recognized by Janus.

Many classified employees have responded positively to the information and chose to act on it, as the LM-2 data shows. Some employees object to PSE membership on political grounds and don’t want their dues to support SEIU’s extensive political apparatus. Others simply have better uses for the money.

As of 2019, PSE dues were 1.75 percent of wages, with the average member paying $454 per year.

Unfortunately, PSE has been particularly intransigent about compliance with Janus. As a result, the number of people who have successfully halted PSE dues deductions from their wages is currently smaller than the number who wish to do so.

Like many other unions, PSE anticipated unions would lose the ability to compel payment after Janus. In preparation, the union inserted an “irrevocability” provision in the fine print of its membership forms. The terms specify that, while union membership can be resigned at any time, dues deductions can only be cancelled during a 15-day annual escape period.

In the months leading up to the Janus ruling, PSE pressured and badgered many employees into signing the updated cards. Many were unaware the requirement to pay union dues, in place for decades, was about to come to an end.

Consequently, as employees have since learned about their rights and sought to cancel unwanted union dues deductions from their wages, many have had their requests denied by PSE because of revised membership agreements signed prior to the ruling.

Some of these workers, such as Michelle Welch from Yelm, have sought legal assistance from the Freedom Foundation. Thanks to the Foundation’s efforts, many classified employees have had their dues cancellation requests processed by PSE outside their respective escape periods.

The Freedom Foundation’s legal pressure also appears to have persuaded the union to discontinue the requirement that employees submit their dues cancellation request during their annual escape period. While the union will still only process the request once an employee’s escape period arrives, PSE will now accept the cancellations at any point.

Still, the union’s practice remains legally questionable. The Freedom Foundation recently argued a federal class action lawsuit before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals challenging more directly similar union restrictions on dues cancellations.

Despite the progress that has been made, as long as PSE continues to insist on employing its heavy-handed tactics to retain membership, much work will remain to reach classified school employees with information about their rights and to clear arbitrary roadblocks the union has created to stem resignations.