Blue states strike first against awaited anti-union court ruling

May 21, 2018


Katherine Landergan and Andrew Hanna

Blue state lawmakers are waging a preemptive strike against an anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision that could decimate the power of public-sector unions across the nation.

New York and New Jersey officials are pursuing an end-run around Janus v. AFSCME, a case that could give government workers across all states the option of declining to pay union fees even if they benefit from that union‘s contract negotiations. Pro- and anti-union partisans alike anticipate the court is likely to rule against the unions — a decision that labor leaders fear will shrink their bank accounts and, in turn, their power.

The play by these states is pretty simple: Beef up public-employee union’s ability to recruit and retain members in an effort to counteract the chunk of revenue loss these unions expect. New York passed a provision in NY A9509 (17R) that makes it harder for people to opt out of paying union dues by letting unions set the terms for refusals and allows union representatives to recruit new employees during the workday. New Jersey just enacted a similar measure through legislation.

The states’ laws make it easier for public-employee unions to recruit workers by giving them access to employees’ contact information and allowing them to recruit during the workday.

At a time when half of all states have enacted right-to-work laws, New York and New Jersey are clear outliers trying to preserve, rather than cripple, union power. And with Trenton unified under Democratic control for the first time in eight years, Garden State Democrats are seizing the opportunity to show other blue states how to fight back.

Unions have been on the decline over the past 30 years, due to globalization and various government policies, including the the spread of right-to-work laws. In 2015, just 11 percent of all workers were in unions, less than half of what membership was in 1983. But government unions have remained a bastion of union power, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating rates of public-sector union membership were five times higher than that of private-sector workers last year.

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