Two summers ago, in Mark Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the arrangement that forced government workers to pay union fees for the privilege of keeping their jobs.
The court ruled that forced dues violate government employees First Amendment rights because public-sector unions are political organizations, bargaining with public officials over such matters as government spending, employee discipline, budgets, and taxation.
The Janus decision is a necessary check on government unions, which are among the most potent political forces in the country today. Their influence is especially strong in California. Golden State government unions collect hundreds of millions of dollars a year in dues, and spend millions on political activities that help elect candidates, who, once in office, pass laws that increase union power and funding.
For instance, the California Teachers Association gave $1.2 million directly to Gov. Newsoms 2018 election campaign. In return, the governor has waged war on the states charter schools, which are independently run and often forgo union labor. In this mutual backscratching exercise, no one represents taxpayers, who see their taxes rise and freedoms curtailed as unions and politicians work in tandem to advance their respective interests. Unlike the role of management in the case of private-sector unions, nobody is on the other side of the bargaining table countering public-sector union demands just politicians who have been bought and paid for by union leaders. Lets call this corruption what it is.
While the broader impact of the Janus decision is immense, its direct impact on government unions is difficult to tally. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in its annual report on union members, quantifies the number of union members nationwide. Yetit doesnt distinguish between private- and public-sector union membership by state. This report also suffers from the traditional limitations of surveys, including potential respondent misunderstandings of the question: Are you covered by a union or employee association contract? While thisdatademonstratesthat the share of unionized workers in California has dropped since the Janus decision, our own research gives a more complete picture of the change.
To quantify the drop in payers to government unions post-Janus, the California Policy Center has been issuing Public Records Act requests to nearly all the government agencies in the state including counties, cities, and school districts to ask about the number of union dues payers before and after the Janus decision. We now have records covering about one-third of the states public-sector workforce.
Our finding: The Janus decision has reduced the number of Californians in government unions by about 13 percent. Some unions, such as those representing public safety officials, have seen small decreases.Others, such as SEIU, which represents service-sector employees who have more trouble coughing up monthly dues payments,have seen larger drops.
A 13 percent drop in dues payers represents a significant curtailment of union power. Would we like the number to be higher? Given the fiscal threat that government unions pose to the state, yes.
But union-backed Democrats in Sacramento have passed a web of laws designed to thwart workers trying to exercise their Janus rights. Exhibit A is Senate Bill 866, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on June 27, 2018, the same day as the Janus decision.
That law bars employers and managers in government from discussing employees Janus rights in the workplace. CPC has sued the government over this gag law on First Amendment grounds, and we expect to win. As workers learn about their rights to stop paying unions with whom they disagree, the number of dues payers will fall further.
The Janus decision was monumental, and it is already paying handsome dividends for California taxpayers and workers. Happy second anniversary to all California government workers.
Will Swaim is the president of the California Policy Center.
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