Politicians and industry observers called the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision a “crushing blow” for public-sector unions because it would prevent them from collecting “fair-share" fees from workers they represent.

A year later, although his union has lost fair-share fees — a sum less than union dues paid by workers to cover the cost of collective bargaining — Tom Tosti calls it something else: A “wake-up call.”

Tosti, director of Pennsylvania state workers union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 88, said the decision drove his union to get back to basics: Go to the workplace and talk to members, especially the ones who were previously paying fair-share fees instead of full dues. Explain what the union has fought for and won. Get them to sign up as full members.

It’s been working, he said. Of the roughly 14,000 members in his local, 11,000 are full dues-paying members, up from 10,000 last year.

“It’s a change in the way things have been done in the past," Tosti said, "but with a decision like that, if you sit there and do the same thing, do you grow? Do you thrive? Are you still there for your membership?”

It’s been one year since the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, in which Mark Janus, a child-support specialist for the state of Illinois sued his union for forcing him to pay fair-share fees, saying it was a freedom of speech violation. After the decision, conservative groups, including those that helped fund the Janus case, launched campaigns encouraging union members to drop out of their union and stop paying dues. The groups also have taken up more legal cases against unions.

Many other unions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have also lost out on the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fair-share fees that they used to collect, but haven’t necessarily seen massive drops in dues-paying members, according to an Inquirer analysis of data from state and city government employers. Groups encouraging workers to drop out of their unions say there hasn’t been a mass exodus of members yet because workers aren’t educated about their rights and fear losing their benefits if they leave their unions.

But it also seems that for many unions, such as Tosti’s DC 88, Janus served as a reminder that legacy unions have to organize just like a fledgling union that’s getting off the ground.

Flipping fair-share members

In the last year, as DC 88 focused on getting workers to pay full dues based on a model encouraged by state and national leaders, unions tried to suss out what stood in the way of members paying full dues. Tosti said union leaders heard from members who said, “I’ve been with the commonwealth for over 10 years and no one’s ever asked me to join the union."

Others didn’t pay full dues because it was a way to save money (fair-share members paid 1 percent of their salary, while full-dues members paid 1.5 percent). Some said they chose fair-share after a workplace issue was unsatisfactorily resolved.

Ethelind Baylor, vice president of AFSCME District Council 47, the city of Philadelphia white-collar workers’ union, said that she wasn’t sure why some members chose to pay fair-share fees, but that the benefits of being a union member “could have been lost in translation."

Her union, which represents 4,000, took on a similar organizing campaign and was able to retain 94 percent of its members, said Baylor, who recently made a failed bid for City Council.

Tosti said more members are now voluntarily participating in his union’s political action committee. More than 400 members have participated, he said, when before, “you were lucky to get 100.”

Less money, but more full-dues paying members

The Inquirer analyzed payroll data before and after Janus from three employers — the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the School District of Philadelphia, and the state of New Jersey — that cover more than 142,000 workers represented by 40 unions. The analysis compared March 2018 and March 2019 for the Philadelphia School District and New Jersey, and March 2018 and May 2019 for Pennsylvania.

According to the data, two-thirds of the 40 unions were collecting fewer dollars from members after Janus:

  • AFSCME collected about $400,000 less from Pennsylvania state workers in May than it did in March 2019. In May, it represented 700 fewer members than it did a year ago. (Tosti said the way he’s been dealing with the loss in revenue is by not replacing union staffers.)
  • The Communications Workers of America (CWA) collected about $76,000 less from New Jersey state workers in March, with 200 fewer workers than it did one year before.
  • The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers collected $18,000 more in March than it did one year ago. It saw an increase of 200 workers hired over the last year.

It’s unclear whether increases or decreases in collections were attributable to more or fewer workers, or current workers changing their dues-paying status, but across the board, the unions saw an increase in the percentage of members who were paying full dues. The changes were mostly small: The state worker unions increased their share of full-dues paying members by about 5 percent, while the school district’s five unions increased their share almost 10 percent.

(UNITE HERE Local 634, which represents the school district’s food service workers, saw a notable increase: It went from 62 percent of its more than 2,000 workers paying full dues in March 2018 to 80 percent in March 2019. That increase seemed to be represented in the amount of dues it collected in March 2019 — nearly $600 more than the previous March, despite having 133 fewer members.)

Here’s how the biggest unions were affected:

  • In May, 70 percent of the roughly 34,000 commonwealth of Pennsylvania workers that AFSCME represents were paying full dues — the same percentage as March 2018.
  • In March, 85 percent of the 33,000 state of New Jersey workers that the CWA represents were paying full dues, up from 80 percent in March 2018.
  • In March, 99 percent of the 13,000 School District of Philadelphia teachers represented by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers were paying full dues, up from 96 percent in March 2018.