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Antonucci: Where will the effects of a Janus ruling fall fastest and hardest?

Mike Antonucci | April 10, 2018



Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report.

Within the next 12 weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a ruling in the case of Janus v. AFSCME. Considering the ideological composition of the court, it is widely assumed that the justices will end the practice of public employee unions collecting representation fees from non-members. California is one of 22 states that allow unions to collect such fees.

Opinions on how this will affect public employee unions tend toward the hyperbolic. Typical editorials claim Janus will “gut,” “decimate” or “crush” unions. While an adverse decision will have a negative impact on union membership, it is highly unlikely that unions will fade into oblivion because of it.

Since almost all of any union’s revenue is generated by member dues, the future health of public employee unions will be measured by how well they can maintain membership levels in an environment of free choice. But free choice can only be practiced by people who are aware they have it, and in the short term, few public employees will be aware they don’t have to join or pay the union. Certainly, the union won’t tell them.

Over time more and more employees will learn they can opt out, so we can expect a slow and gradual decline in union membership. Where the immediate impact will be felt, particularly here in California, is among government workers who are currently fee-payers. After a Janus ruling, they will immediately go from paying hundreds of dollars in representation fees to paying zero.

Unions keep details about the numbers and location of their fee-payers close to the vest, but I have those details for the California Teachers Association. For K-12 teachers and in almost all regions of the state, the number of fee-payers is small, ranging from 2 to 5 percent.

There are two key cities where the percentage is much higher — Los Angeles and San Diego. Fee-payers comprise about 11.8 percent of the United Teachers Los Angeles bargaining unit. For the San Diego Education Association it’s about 8.2 percent. For both of these locals, the loss of representation fees will have an immediate and significant impact on their budgets.

CTA is advising all local affiliates to construct contingency budgets for the 2018-19 school year, projecting various levels of membership loss, the worst-case scenario being a 40 percent drop.

I doubt that much of a loss will happen in a single year to any K-12 local, but it may be a different story for CTA’s higher education affiliates.

CTA has two affiliates that act as umbrella organizations for dozens of locals in the state’s higher education system. The California Faculty Association represents professors on California State University campuses, while the Community College Association bargains on behalf of those in community college districts.

California’s higher education employees are much more likely to forgo union membership and instead pay representation fees than are K-12 teachers. This is probably due to the large number of adjunct faculty who, even when unionized, lack many of the job protections afforded tenure-track professors. The Community College Association has 30.5 percent fee-payers while the California Faculty Association has 34.1 percent. Combined, higher education employees make up more than half of CTA’s 28,459 fee-payers statewide.

If none of these fee-payers decides to join the union, CTA will be out about $7.2 million next year. That’s only about a 4 percent loss, so it probably won’t have much impact on the state union’s activities.

UTLA and SDEA will have to do some adjusting for the loss of fee-payers, even if they are able to keep all of their dues-paying members. The state’s higher education unions have a much steeper hill to climb. The immediate loss of fee-payer revenue might be enough to sink some locals and will surely curtail the activities of others.

All of this suggests that those expecting large-scale changes in a post-Janus world may be sorely disappointed. However, there may be individual regions and job categories that are disproportionately weakened.

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