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Doug Finke

Officials keep mum on exact number of union opt-outs

Janus case could impact members

Janus case could impact members

Two weeks ago, the Rauner administration, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Janus case, set up a website to inform unionized workers about how much they are paying in union dues and how they could drop out of union representation.

To date, the administration has not said how many workers who previously were full union members have decided to opt out of union representation as a result of the Janus ruling.

At the same time, the union that represents the bulk of state employees said that “hundreds” of people have joined the union as dues-paying members since the Janus decision. It said only a “handful” have quit. The union said it could not provide specific numbers.

The Supreme Court ruled June 27 that workers could not be compelled to pay “fair-share” fees to unions. Fair-share fees are paid by workers who do not want to join a union, but whose jobs are nonetheless represented by a union in collective bargaining and other workplace issues. The fees are lower than regular union dues and were intended to cover the cost of collective bargaining.

Springfield state worker Mark Janus contended the fees violated his free speech rights. With the aid of anti-union groups, his case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor.

The day the decision came out, the Department of Central Management Services sent an email to state workers informing them of the decision. For employees who paid fare-share fees, that deduction would stop immediately, the email said.

The email also provided a link for state workers that enabled them to opt out of being a full union member if they chose. The site also showed how much workers could save in union dues if they opted out.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees called the email “deliberately confusing and misleading” and said it was intended to “confuse and divide workers and weaken their voice on the job.”

Since the site was set up, however, the state has not said how many full dues-paying members have opted to drop their union membership. Instead, the Department of Central Management Services said, it has been busy ensuring that fair-share fees are no longer withheld from worker paychecks. ...

There have also been reports of widespread confusion about what workers need to do in the wake of the Janus decision. Although the email said the state would stop deducting fair-share fees immediately, many fair-share workers reportedly also used the website to opt out even though they didn’t have to, which created confusion.

The Department of Central Management Services also said it has been busy answering questions from workers about the decision through a site set up to field those questions. ...

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said the union is hearing “that folks understand the importance of the union and appreciate the contributions the union makes. They know it requires resources, and they want to support the union.”

He said one reason the union can’t put a number on new members is lack of information from the administration.

“We are hearing from our locals that they have people going to the employer to tell them they want to sign up, and we have been unable to get any information from the administration on those numbers,” Lindall said.

AFSCME represents about 38,000 state workers. Right after the Janus decision was handed down, CMS said there were 41,205 unionized state workers in government office agencies, including AFSCME, the Teamsters, trade unions and others. Of those members, 3,977 were fair-share employees.

The Illinois Economic Policy Institute and Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois determined that the Janus decision would lead to hundreds of thousands fewer union members nationwide. A study it released in May projected the loss of 49,000 union jobs and a drop in public sector wages of 4 percent on average.

Frank Manzo IV, policy director for the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, said it could take several years before the full impact of the Janus decision is realized.

“... We expect most of the union membership effects and the union membership drops to occur within 3 to 5 years,” he said.

Moreover, union membership could still fluctuate over time. He noted that in Indiana, union membership dropped initially when the state became right-to-work. However, it went back up again before falling again significantly.

Manzo also said the Janus could have an opposite effect on some public employees who may decide their jobs or wages are now threatened, which could motivate them to join a union rather than opt out of one.

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