One court case changed the future of teachers’ unions forever. On June 27, 2018, in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, the United States Supreme Court ended the practice of enabling public-sector unions to collect “fair-share” or “agency” fees from employees who decline to join said unions.
Bradley Marianno, assistant professor of educational policy and leadership in the College of Education at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was hosted by the McKay School’s Education Leadership and Foundations Department this October. Marianno’s presentation expounded on the research he’s done concerning the state of teachers’ unions since the pivotal Janus case. This research was recently featured in Education Next, a journal of opinion and research about education policy.
“When we think about teachers’ unions and their effect on education we can think about it through three main avenues,” Marianno explained. “Professional development and support; collective bargaining; and federal, state, and local political activity.”
Marianno described the collective bargaining role of teachers’ unions as the impetus for the Janus case. “Fair share fees” came about because teachers’ unions have exclusive representation for all employees in collective bargaining negotiations, whether or not they are members of the union. Therefore, unions began charging non-union members “agency fees” so that those teachers could pay for their fair share of the service.
“So Mark Janus, who was a municipal employee in Illinois challenged this,” said Marianno. “He had to pay $45 a month towards his fair share, and he said that violated his first amendment rights because all union activity is political and he was being forced to subsidize the political speech of the teachers’ union.”
The Supreme Court was split until Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed, at which point the Court ruled in favor of Janus. Fair share fees were no more.
Now teachers are represented by unions in negotiations without needing to join the union and pay the monthly fees, which usually hover around $70 a month, or pay agency fees. This is good news for teachers, but potentially troubling news for unions.
So, how will this case affect teachers’ unions throughout the country? Marianno has looked to the examples of several states that became “right to work” states before the Janus decision landed. These states already prohibited agency fees, so Marianno found them useful as case studies for what might occur nationwide.
“We can use the past to understand what might happen in the future,” stated Marianno. “We asked, ‘How did teachers’ unions fair in these states on membership, revenue, and on political activity after they became right to work states?’”
The two states Marianno detailed in his presentation were Michigan and Wisconsin.
“Unsurprisingly, we find steep membership declines in Michigan and Wisconsin,” said Marianno. “Wisconsin lost about 52 percent of their membership, or 42,263 individuals, over a five-year span. Michigan lost 21 percent over a three-year period.”
In just five years since eliminating agency fees, Wisconsin teachers unions have been cut in half. The elimination of agency fees isn’t the only thing turning teachers away from unions.
“Michigan had a corresponding policy change with their right to work policy which prohibited paycheck deductions,” added Marianno. “So no longer were districts allowed to automatically deduct dues. The union had to go to each individual member and sign them up to get membership dues.”
It’s harder for people to part with money when they need to pull out a credit card instead of having it automatically deducted. This inconvenience for teachers prevents individuals from signing up. “More devastating [to unions] than the right to work change was this paycheck deductions law,” said Marianno.
A decline in membership has a clear effect on revenue streams. “Dues revenue per teacher fell by $316 in Wisconsin and by $186 in Michigan,” reported Marianno.
With less money available, one might expect unions to decrease spending to stay afloat. Counterintuitively, “in Wisconsin we see a steady upward trend in campaign contributions,” said Marianno.
That said, cuts are being made. “They’re drastically cutting non-political spending,” explained Marianno. “They’ve cut staff and benefits in their state level office and they’re reallocating those cost savings toward political expenditures.”
Marianno purports that unions throughout the country will adapt their budgets, like Wisconsin, to survive. “They’re obviously getting less money, so they have to reallocate spending to where they think it matters most. Some of that, I argue, will go to political contributions.”
Teachers’ unions may return to traditional roles that unions played—being a voice for teachers.
“There is some evidence that the Janus case will cause unions to have to listen to their members a little bit more because now they have to hold onto every single one of them and convince them that their services are worth paying for,” said Marianno.
What does the future hold for teachers’ unions? If Marianno’s research in Michigan and Wisconsin is representative of the nation’s response, there could be rough waters ahead. Unions will have to batten down the hatches, but Marianno believes there is still a place for teachers’ unions.
“Some might be surprised by unions’ resiliency,” predicted Marianno. Protests before and after the Janus case are indicative of an increase in teacher activism. “By causing teachers to return to this collective action, Janus may, in the end, invigorate the unions that the court case intended to incapacitate as folks organize around these unions.”
Writer: Jake Gulisane
Contact: Cindy Glad (801) 422-1922