In a recent federal filing, Washington’s largest state employees’ union, the Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME Council 28 (WFSE), reported a significant decline in membership and revenue in the year following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME.
The Janus decision struck down state laws requiring union-represented public employees to pay dues or fees as unconstitutional under the First Amendment, allowing employees to make their own decisions about whether to join and financially support a union.
In its 2019 LM-2 report to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, covering the July 2018-June 2019 fiscal year, WFSE disclosed a 27.4 percent decline in financial supporters during a period in which state employment remained stable. According to its 2018 LM-2, WFSE collected dues or fees from 43,290 state workers in June 2018. A year later, only 31,447 employees supported the union financially.
The decline reflects comprehensive outreach by the Freedom Foundation, started even before Janus, to educate state employees about their constitutional right to resign union membership.
WFSE has attempted to stem the losses in various ways. With assistance from the state Legislature, WFSE has unionized more employees, such as assistant attorneys general. It will likely back legislation to unionize several hundred employees of the state Legislature in 2020.
The union has also supported laws and policies to make it easier to sign public employees up for union membership and difficult for employees to cancel union membership. Under HB 1575, passed by the state Legislature at the urging of labor leaders earlier this year, unions can sign employees up for membership in writing, electronically or telephonically, but employees can only cancel their membership in writing.
WFSE has also inserted “irrevocability” clauses into its membership agreements restricting signers’ ability to cancel union dues deductions to a 15-day annual escape period. The Freedom Foundation filed a federal lawsuit against WFSE on behalf of state employees who believe these arbitrary restrictions are unconstitutional but, for the moment, they remain in effect.
As a result of additional union-backed legislation adopted in 2018, newly hired state workers are pressured to sign these irrevocable union membership agreements as part of their orientation process.
Lastly, the union raised its dues cap by 4 percent, from $81.18 to $84.46 per month.
Despite these countermeasures, WFSE’s dues collection declined 11.9 percent, from $27.2 million in 2018 to $24 million in 2019.
As a result, WFSE was forced to pare back its payroll costs, reducing the number of paid officers and staff from 229 to 200, and take other cost-cutting measures.
WFSE’s decline stands in contrast to the experience of its parent organization, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). In December 2018, AFSCME disclosed a more modest 4.9 percent decline in financial supporters.
Judging by the union’s words and actions, the difference can be attributed largely to the Freedom Foundation’s work to help employees understand their rights and overcome union obstacles.
And despite its declining revenue, WFSE found room in its budget to donate $65,000 of its members’ dues to the so-called “Northwest Accountability Project,” a comically inept, one-man 501(c)(4) organization based in Portland with a mission to smear the Freedom Foundation and anyone associated with it.
So far, WFSE executives appear to be trying to minimize Janus and retain as much of the old coercive model as possible. As membership and revenue continues to decline, however, WFSE may have to seriously re-evaluate its heavy-handed and politics-centric approach that turns off so many of the people it represents.