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California’s Government Unions Continue Steady Decline

California’s Government Unions Continue Steady Decline

Boosted by Covid emergency funding, California governments have gone on a hiring frenzy, but membership in California’s government unions has hit a 20-year low, documents obtained by California Policy Center show.

State and local government payroll records, obtained by CPC under the state’s Public Records Act, reveal that governments have added some 200,000 new employees after four years of declining employment. At the same time, government union membership continued its decline. Since the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v AFSCME, the state’s unions have lost a total of 378,000 potential members.

In Janus, the Court declared that governments cannot require their employees to join unions without violating those employees’ First Amendment rights of speech and assembly.

“This decline is most remarkable because it comes despite that massive hiring boom,” said Jackson Reese, Vice President of California Policy Center and director of CPC’s Janus project. “Every time a worker resigns union membership, her union loses close to $1,000 in dues per year. And, of course, that means $1,000 annually goes into the employee’s pocket.”

Reese, who led CPC’s documents review, said his team calculates that the membership losses produced a decline in annual union dues income of just under $337 million.

“That’s money the unions no longer have to finance campaigns, engage in political activism or lobby government officials — and that’s a key purpose of our work here,” Reese said.

Some of the most notable declines took place in the California University system where almost 45% of faculty and staff are no longer paying into their unions. Internal records report 29,403 employees have decided union membership is no longer for them.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, many firefighting unions are still retaining the bulk of their membership — despite the California Professional Firefighters consistent endorsements and financial support of progressive candidates statewide.

CPC has spent about $4.5 million for its part in helping government workers resign from their unions.

“Wherever we deploy our resources, the documents show a steep decline in union membership,” Reese said. “Without intervention, union membership remains even or rises just a bit.”

“We’re winning the fight to liberate government workers from unions that work every day against the interests of California’s working people,” said CPC president Will Swaim. “But the fight continues. The unions have controlled state and local government for decades — decades in which the state has become more and more dysfunctional. They’re not going to disappear because we ask politely.”

If you know government workers who think they’re trapped in their union, help them resign. Send them here.

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