The American Federation of Teachers has lost 76,000 members over the last year, a 4% decline for the now-1.7 million member union, one of the largest covering public sector workers. The decline has translated to $18 million loss in dues revenue for the union.
The drop in membership happened in the first year following the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which said that public-sector employees cannot be forced to join or otherwise support a union. A substantial portion of the teachers the union represented decided to opt out.
In a recent Labor Department filing, the union reported just 3,000 “agency fee” payers, down from more than 85,000 the previous year. Agency fee payers are people who not members of a union but are covered by a collective bargaining contract which requires them to pay a union a regular fee. Janus said public sector workers can no longer be forced to pay those fees.
“We lost them all with the stroke of a pen,” an AFT official told the Washington Examiner. The remaining agency fee payers are all at private-sector schools, the official said. The Janus ruling doesn’t cover private-sector employment.
Many public sector unions said in the months following the Janus ruling that they would redouble grassroots outreach to build members. “In fact, our union is growing. Since Janus, we’ve had 11 organizing wins. Union members have sent a clear message: We are sticking with the union,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in January.
The labor filing showed that AFT succeeded in increasing the numbers of regular card-carrying members, adding an addition 8,000 full-time teachers. It further boosted its numbers by adding 8,000 retiree members. Still, the union was evidently unable to convert the bulk of agency fee payers to regular members. It lost another 5,000 members due to membership declines among part-time teachers.
“If only active employees are counted, the union actually lost 1,777 members,” said Maxford Nelson, director of labor policy for the Freedom Foundation, a conservative nonprofit organization based in the Pacific Northwest.