After the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, union members were supposed to be allowed to leave if they wanted. That’s not how it worked out though. In The Wall Street Journal, Charles Mitchell reports that unions have ways of making members stay. It’s very much a Hotel California, you can check out, but you can never leave. Mitchell writes:
William Neely, a state hospital psychiatric aide in Berks County, Pa., had long been frustrated with his union. He felt the leaders of his local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees affiliate were looking out for their own interests, not his. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year in Janus v. Afscme that government workers could no longer be forced to pay so-called agency fees as a condition of employment, Mr. Neely thought he saw his chance to resign his membership without paying a penalty. Not quite.
In July, weeks after the Janus ruling, Mr. Neely submitted his resignation letter. Receiving no response, he called and emailed union officials, who stonewalled him. Though a union member for more than a decade, Mr. Neely was startled to discover that the fine print of his union’s state contract included a “maintenance of membership” clause preventing him from resigning until a 15-day “window” opened in June 2019.
Undaunted, Mr. Neely sought help from Keith Williams, Pennsylvania outreach director for Americans for Fair Treatment, a nonprofit where I am a board member. Mr. Williams, a former public schoolteacher who educates government workers on their rights, says Mr. Neely’s problem is common. “We regularly hear from union members trapped behind resignation windows,” Mr. Williams says. “It’s the unions’ trump card to keep their hands on workers’ paychecks.”
Before the Janus ruling was handed down, union leaders claimed that losing agency fees would decimate their finances. Others predicted a swift membership exodus and an end to unions’ outsize political influence. The truth is that union leaders are far too savvy to allow a single ruling to destroy their business model in a few months. Janus broke down a major barrier trapping workers who wanted to break free of unions, but other barriers remain. Dismantling them fully will take years.
Post-Janus, government unions nationwide took an immediate and major hit, losing an estimated $120 million in yearly revenue from nonmembers no longer forced to pay agency fees. And the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that public-sector union membership dipped by 49,000 to the lowest unionization rate since 1983. Yet unions remain solvent, and most members are paying their dues, which can run as high as $2,000 annually.
Public-sector unions are resilient, in part because many government workers don’t know their options. Neither the unions nor public employers are required to inform employees of the Janus decision or how to drop their union membership. Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Legislature is reintroducing bills, advanced by the House last year, to notify public employees of their rights.
Read more here.