Freedom Foundation

WSJ Article Links Union Defections to Outreach, Highlights Freedom Foundation Efforts

An article in the Nov. 21st Wall Street Journal underscores what the Freedom Foundation’s experience has shown: When public employees know they have the right to opt out of their union — and a partner willing and able to help them navigate the obstacles to freedom erected in their path by the unions — they do so.

In fact, workers opt out in direct proportion to the amount of outreach and support they receive. Hence the unions are losing membership in larger numbers and with greater urgency in states where the Freedom Foundation is most active.

“The Washington Federation of State Employees lost fees from nearly 7,000 nonmembers after the (U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME affirming that mandatory membership and dues are a violation of the worker’s First Amendment rights),” wrote reporter Kris Maher. “Nearly 5,000 workers resigned their membership and stopped paying dues in the year that ended June 30, compared with the prior year, according to filings with the Labor Department. The losses represent a 27.4 percent drop in workers contributing either fees or dues to the union, which took in $3.2 million less than the prior year.”

While union defections have been relatively modest elsewhere in the country in the wake of Janus, the results in Washington, Oregon and California — where the Freedom Foundation maintains an aggressive presence — have been striking.

All the more so when you recognize the three states in which the Freedom Foundation is most active are arguably the most liberal — and union-dominated — in the nation. In just a year and half, the Foundation has helped free over 62,000 public employees from union bondage.

By contrast, in Ohio — where the Freedom Foundation just opened a branch office a few weeks ago — the Ohio Association of Public School Employees lost 1,700 fee payers and 448 workers resigned their union membership since the court’s decision.

Even after signing up new members, it reported 1,662 fewer dues and fee payers through August of this year, a drop of about 5 percent, compared with two years earlier. The pace of opt-outs should pick up noticeably once the Freedom Foundation begins contacting public employees in the state.

The article notes:

The conservative Freedom Foundation, based in Olympia, Wash., has focused efforts in Washington, Oregon and California, sending emails, mailings and texts to government workers to let them know that the Janus ruling means they don’t have to pay dues.

Billboards the group paid for in Oregon told public employees they could “save thousands by opting out of union dues!”

The group, which also provides legal counsel to workers, says it has helped 20,000 public employees resign their union membership in California since the Janus ruling. It opened an office in Ohio earlier this month.

“Our experience with public employees shows that a great many are dissatisfied with their union representation, or how unions spend their money,” said Maxford Nelsen, director of labor policy at the Freedom Foundation.

Why Some Unions Are Losing Members

From the Wall Street Journal
By Kris Maher

Some public-workers unions are experiencing steep losses of members and fees, dips largely triggered by a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that gave members an out.

The Washington Federation of State Employees lost fees from nearly 7,000 nonmembers after the ruling. Nearly 5,000 workers resigned their membership and stopped paying dues in the year that ended June 30, compared with the prior year, according to filings with the Labor Department.

The losses represent a 27.4% drop in workers contributing either fees or dues to the union, which took in $3.2 million less than the prior year.

The Ohio Association of Public School Employees lost 1,700 fee payers and 448 workers resigned their union membership since the court’s decision. Even after signing up new members, it reported 1,662 fewer dues and fee payers through August of this year, a drop of about 5%, compared with two years earlier.

The union took in $350,000 less in dues and fees in its most recent fiscal year, a decline of about 2.4%. “We’re all adjusting. There’s no question that we are dealing with a smaller revenue base,” said Joe Rugola, executive director of the union.

The court, in its Janus decision in June 2018, banned provisions in union contracts requiring government workers in union-represented workplaces to either join the union or pay agency fees. Unions stopped collecting those fees from several hundred thousand public employees.

The ruling effectively instituted right-to-work rules for public-sector workers in nearly two dozen states that don’t have such laws, which allow workers to opt out of paying union dues or fees. Some workers have also resigned their union membership, further cutting into union coffers.

The unionization rate among government workers remains high nationally, but has declined slightly in recent years. For instance, the rate for government workers fell from 34.4% in 2017 to 33.9% in 2018, according to the Labor Department. (The unionization rate of private-sector workers, by contrast, is 6.4%.)

Renewed organizing efforts and some victories for the teachers unions after strikes in several states has blunted the effect of the Janus ruling for some unions, said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Mike Yestramski, president of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said the union anticipated the loss of agency fee payers and hasn’t had to make cuts. Instead, the union has trained more shop stewards to enforce contracts and try to organize more workers.

“The overwhelming majority of state employees continue to see the value of the union and want to be involved,” said Mr. Yestramski, who works as a psychiatric social worker at a hospital in Lakewood, Wash.

While many public-sector unions are adding new dues-paying members, the pace typically isn’t enough to offset lost revenue from workers who paid agency fees. Fees paid by public employees typically amount to less than full union member dues, but in some cases fees are as much as dues paid by full union members.

The American Federation of Teachers recently reported that it added 6,800 new members but lost 83,000 fee payers in the year ended in June, compared with the prior year. The union, which has 1.7 million members, received $18 million less in dues, a 9% decline, compared with the prior year.

The Oregon School Employees Association reported a loss of fees and dues from 5,523 workers, a drop of 26.6%, for the year ended May 31, according to Labor Department filings.

The Oregon union, which represents 23,000 bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other support staff, closed three field offices and received a grant of $400,000 from its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers. A union official didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Jennifer Corfee said she resigned from her Afscme local union, which represents city workers in Bellingham, Wash., earlier this month, because she doesn’t agree with how the union has spent her dues. An accountant, she calculated that her $50 in monthly dues will net her at least $10,000 over the next 18 years.

“Long story short, my reason for pulling out is to take my $50 a month and put it in my retirement,” she said. “It’s pretty significant.”

Mr. Bruno, the University of Illinois professor, recently found that in Illinois the unionization rate among public-sector unions fell 4.5 percentage points, or about 35,000 workers, in the six months after the Janus ruling. “It’s not an earth-shattering number,” he said. “On the other hand, organized labor can’t be indifferent to any amount of loss.”

Conservative groups have run campaigns aimed at persuading government employees to opt out of paying dues.

The conservative Freedom Foundation, based in Olympia, Wash., has focused efforts in Washington, Oregon and California, sending emails, mailings and texts to government workers to let them know that the Janus ruling means they don’t have to pay dues.

Billboards the group paid for in Oregon told public employees they could “save thousands by opting out of union dues!”

The group, which also provides legal counsel to workers, says it has helped 20,000 public employees resign their union membership in California since the Janus ruling. It opened an office in Ohio earlier this month.

“Our experience with public employees shows that a great many are dissatisfied with their union representation, or how unions spend their money,” said Maxford Nelsen, director of labor policy at the Freedom Foundation.