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Losses Due to Janus are Low

Teachers unions report losses from Janus are low and political participation is up

Posted on
Nov 02, 2018

Politico is reporting that Teacher's Unions around the country are saying that not only are they not losing members from Janus, but teachers are fired up and helping out more on this year's political campaigns.

Teachers unions appear to have dodged a serious blow to their political activity and membership rolls following a sweeping Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, defying predictions that the unions’ traditional campaign organizing in advance of the midterm elections could be devastated.

Nine union leaders in eight states interviewed by POLITICO reported modest but anticipated drops in membership since the court decision, in addition to the loss of thousands of non-members who used to pay mandatory union fees. At the same time, union leaders reported an uptick in members attending rallies, canvassing neighborhoods and phone banking for the midterms, though the teachers unions’ national rankings in political giving to candidates slipped. Even conservatives acknowledged that teachers remained key to Democratic Party election organizing.

But firm numbers on current membership remain difficult to come by. Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers declined to provide estimates for how many of their members have dropped out since the court ruling. Combined, they have more than 4.6 million members and each lost more than 85,000 non-members paying mandatory fees, according to Department of Labor filings.

State leaders insist it's been a banner election year. “When I go and I see our members out there on the stump or at a rally, I see a level of enthusiasm and engagement that I did not see four years ago or two years ago in the presidential race,” said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, a state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

The June ruling in Janus v. AFSCME outlawed the collection of mandatory fees from non-union members to offset collective bargaining costs, cutting off a major source of funding before Election Day. The ruling threatened to dampen union membership rolls and endanger teachers unions’ long-standing position as stalwarts of Democratic Party politics and grassroots organizing.

In Illinois, with more than 100,000 members, Montgomery said the union lost about 6,500 non-union fee payers and about 250 members since the Janus decision.

“Our members want change,” he said. “I see a blue wave coming in Illinois. And our members are heavily involved.”

Conservatives agree unions seem largely unaffected by the court ruling. Robert Ordway, director of the commerce, insurance and economic development task force at the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which supported the Janus decision, said he doesn’t see unions “missing a beat” this election cycle.

To bolster his point, Ordway pointed to the high-profile defeat of a Missouri referendum in August that would’ve banned the collection of mandatory fees from non-union members in private sector workplaces.

Teachers unions are among the most organized when it comes to organized labor, he said.

“They are a community,” Ordway said. “They’ve been part of the American infrastructure for so long. I see their political clout being challenged, but I don’t see it being eroded completely.”

AFT’s national PAC raised more than $7 million between January 2017 and Oct. 17. In 2013-14, the PAC raised $11.7 million through the end of December 2014, a comparable midterm election. The American Federation of Teachers declined to comment on the drop in contributions.

NEA’s PAC raised more than $4 million between January 2017 and Oct. 17 of this year, and raised $4.6 million in 2013-14.

OpenSecrets, a project of the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, ranks the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association as the 12th and 13th most generous organizations during the 2018 election cycle to date, with the vast majority of federal contributions going to Democrats.

In 2016, AFT and NEA ranked 9th and 11th, respectively. In 2014, they ranked 6th and 2nd.

Some other reports about membership have come out. Anti-union blogger Mike Antonucci, citing leaked information, reported last week that NEA has lost 17,000 members since April — a small fraction of the union’s 3 million members as of its last public report in August 2017.

The National Education Association told POLITICO that it couldn’t confirm those losses. Both national teachers unions said they’re still tabulating figures from state and local affiliates.

“That being said, we have not seen any significant drop in membership,” NEA spokeswoman Staci Maiers said. “None of our affiliates have seen large numbers of drops, and many of those inquiring about dropping change their mind once they talk with someone.”

In Montana, the Montana Federation of Public Employees represents all state employees, including teachers. The union, both an affiliate of the NEA and AFT, has about 25,000 members, lost about 2,000 fee payers and saw 400 members resign after Janus, according to President Eric Feaver.

Chris Lilienthal, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, an NEA affiliate, said the union has about 181,000 members. PSEA lost about 6,500 fee-payers and 800 members, he said.

Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, an AFT affiliate, said the union has about 15,000 members and lost about 250 fee payers and fewer than 20 members after Janus.

State affiliates who spoke to POLITICO said they’re springing into action when anyone signals an interest in leaving. Some union leaders said their members have received emails from conservative organizations like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy with detailed instructions on how to leave the union.

“If someone says, ‘Hey, I want to drop the union,’ someone from her school district is going to talk to her, maybe a teacher that works just down the hall,” said Montgomery, of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. “We follow up.”

Jarrett Skorup of the Mackinac Center said its work is focused on educating teachers who may not know about their new rights under Janus. He said a lack of awareness about the ruling and any hoops that members have to jump through in order to drop out make it hard to assess the effect.

Other groups that support the Janus decision agreed.

The Freedom Foundation, a West Coast conservative think tank, said that it has persuaded 3 percent of full-time public employees in California, Oregon and Washington to stop paying union dues since Janus.

But teachers unions seem to be less susceptible than other labor groups, said Maxford Nelsen, the Freedom Foundation’s director of labor policy.

“Teachers are probably less likely than other public employees to resign their membership,” he said. “Generally, folks are a little more reluctant in the school district to get singled out. … It’s a challenging environment to buck the union.”

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