Disunion: Union membership in key school district fell dramatically after Janus

By Editorial Staff
January 21, 2019

CLASS WAR: Teachers union activists and supporters surround Santa Ana school district candidate Angie Cano, April 2018. Cano, a school choice activist, was attempting to speak at a district board meeting. Police escorted her into the building.

Union membership in California’s sixth-largest school district fell rapidly in 2018, perhaps signaling a broader statewide decline following last summer’s Supreme Court decision in Janus, the landmark labor case.

In 2018, Santa Ana Unified School District documents show, membership in the powerful Santa Ana Educators Association (SASE) declined about 5%, from an average of 2,347 members in the first three months to an average of 2,224 in the final three months.

Membership among support staff in the California School Employees Association (CSEA) fell 10% in the same two periods, from 2,669 to 2,415.

“The district’s numbers show the biggest decline in both Santa Ana unions came in just after the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus,” said California Policy President Will Swaim. “While the membership numbers picked up again with the beginning of the school year in September, they haven’t returned to early 2018 numbers.”

Some of the decline may be the result of a new weapon: social media. California Policy Center is using FaceBook and Twitter to deliver messages encouraging government workers to leave their unions, Those on the receiving end are encouraged to visit MyPayMySay.com, where they can learn about their rights following the Supreme Court’s Janus decision.

Resignations among support staff were generational, with younger or newer workers appearing to have been more likely than older workers to drop out. “The district’s reports reveal this interesting feature: though membership numbers in CSEA dropped, the union’s revenue from mandatory dues stayed fairly constant,” Swaim said. “That would seem to indicate that district workers who are younger – and so paid less than their older colleagues – have been among the first to leave the union. Older workers typically earn more and pay higher dues than their younger colleagues.”

The powerful teachers union has controlled Santa Ana Unified School District politics for decades. The result has been epic financial management. Throughout the last 15 years, union leaders pushed for higher pay and benefits, and compliant elected officials approved them – even as district staff warned of declining enrollments and the rising cost of benefits paid to retired district employees.

Reality hit in May 2017, when the district balanced its budget by sending layoff notices to more than 300 teachers picked by the union for termination. Teachers union contracts with California school districts allow union officials to pick teachers for layoffs based on the union’s internal policies. And that’s how it unfolded in Santa Ana, with union officials creating the layoff list based on union seniority rather than merit.

Declining membership presents a financial and political problem for union leaders. “When government union leaders have more money, they spend it to support political candidates. Once in office, those politicians naturally feel loyal. They’re very likely to greenlight generous contracts for the people who campaigned for them,” Swaim said. “Contracts approved in that political environment are bound to be like unexploded roadside bombs: We may not feel the pain today, but they’ll cause financial chaos down the road.”

The district made its documents available to California Policy Center following a public records request by CPC counsel Craig Alexander. Teachers union president Barbara Pearson did not respond to a request for comment.

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