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Bad Framing in Labor Reporting


This drove me nuts yesterday:

This is not amazing at all. What is happening is that Janus exempted non-members of public sector unions from paying dues. So those who were not union members before Janus are not union members after Janus. This is….exactly what was expected. Here’s an excerpt from the original story, which is as poorly framed as that tweet.

Two major public sector unions lost nearly 210,000 agency fee payers combined in 2018, according to recently filed reports showing the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibits forcing nonmembers to pay for collective bargaining and other nonpolitical expenses.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees saw a 98 percent drop from the prior year, leaving 2,200 agency fee payers. The Service Employees International Union lost 94 percent of their agency fee payers, reducing the number of agency fee payers to 5,800.

The disclosure reports filed with the Labor Department last week provide an early snapshot of ramifications of the high court’s June 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which said mandatory agency fees in the public sector violate nonmembers’ First Amendment rights. Agency fees typically amount to 75 to 85 percent of full union dues.

The two main public teachers unions similarly lost their fee payers following the ruling, according to government reports and union representatives.

While the immediate and near total exodus of fee payers from public sector unions was expected, the long-term impact of the Janus decision will likely be measured in how many members quit. The ruling allows public employees in unionized workplaces to benefit from collective bargaining without paying anything.

“Most agency fee payers left,” said Patrick Wright, vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative advocacy group. “The big question going forward is how many full members are going to join them.”

The Mackinac Center is one of several conservative groups running campaigns urging public employees to consider dropping out of their unions.

The early returns show little change in AFSCME and SEIU membership numbers. AFSCME gained by more than 9,000 non-retired members in 2018, about a 1 percent gain over the previous year. The SEIU lost nearly 4,500 non-retired members, which represents a 0.3 percent drop.

Finally, at the bottom, you get into the fact that Janus has had no net impact on total union membership. The rest of the article does more with this information. In fact, unions are pleasantly surprised. Both conservatives and unions believed that the post-Janus world would see a big exodus of union members who didn’t want to pay dues any longer. But that hasn’t happened at all. It’s made no impact. My own union has a higher membership rate than it did a year ago and that is by no means uncommon. People join unions because they recognize they give us power at the workplace. It’s not about the money, which isn’t that much and you never see it anyway. It’s about the voice on the job. That’s what conservatives don’t quite get.

That doesn’t mean Janus wasn’t terrible. It still creates a huge class of people leeching off of their union member colleagues and reduces the financial and political power of public sector unions–the reason for right-wing attacks to begin with. But there is absolutely nothing surprising about any of this. At most, it suggests that unions need to do a better job signing up non-members, hardly a revolutionary sentiment. But for people who don’t know better, Markay and the article itself are spinning this into misinformation.

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