Three years, 300,000 workers freed

By Chantal Lovell
June 25, 2021

Over a quarter-million California workers are exercising new-found freedoms, despite lawmakers’ and unions’ attempt to prevent them from doing so.  

In the past three years, an estimated 306,000 Californians – representing 20% of the public workforce – have stopped paying dues and fees to unions. This means they are able to keep approximately $240 million in their own earnings each year, rather than send it off to unions that will spend it on political causes they don’t support. 

They were able to do so thanks to a decision issued by the Supreme Court of the United States three years ago this weekend, and expansive education campaigns. In the landmark Janus v. AFSCME case, the court ruled that forcing public employees to pay unions as a condition of employment violated their First Amendment rights. As of June 27, 2018, all public employees – regardless of whether they live in a state that honors employees’ right to work or not – would have the freedom to drop union membership if they no longer wanted to belong. 

With 1.5 million government workers in California at the time, we at the California Policy Center knew this decision holds the promise to save California. Government unions – Sacramento’s greatest special interest – may no longer force people to pay dues – sometimes in excess of $1,000 a year – that they use to further their destructive political agenda. 

That’s why we partnered with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan to give government workers across the state the information their unions were trying to keep quiet. Using Mackinac’s experience from educating workers after Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, we ran social media ads, canvassed neighborhoods, bought billboards, and went to the media. We talked with thousands of workers to explain their new Janus rights, and correct the misinformation being spread by unions. 

Today, we are seeing the tremendous outcome of efforts by CPC, the Mackinac Center, and other groups working daily to educate California workers of their rights. According to our analysis, which you can read more about here, more government workers in California have chosen to no longer pay unions than in any other state. 

The union exodus is especially notable considering how hard unions and the politicians they elect are trying to keep workers paying. Leading up to the Janus decision, lawmakers enacted a series of laws allowing unions to keep workers in the dark about their rights and ensure the unions can more easily get a cut of workers’ paychecks. They prevent public officials from saying anything to “discourage or deter” union membership, require the state to take a union’s word that a worker had consented to join, and more. Collectively, they make it more difficult for workers to exercise their new freedoms. When Assemblyman Kevin Kiley introduced a bill this year to notify teachers of their Janus rights and ensure those paying dues had consented to do so, the majority party didn’t give it so much as a hearing. 

If the past three years have taught us anything, it’s that workers are eager to leave the union once they know they can. When CPC and our allies invest in a region to educate workers, we see an impact.

Thank you for fighting along with us. Now, on to the next three years, and the next 300,000!

Quote of the week

“It’s not really the legislators who run the legislature. It’s the unions, it’s special interests in general, and they’re by far the most dominant force. You see the way they have total control over the agenda, over which bills move and which don’t, over the way people vote, and all facets of the process, or what remains of the process. …  That’s why the work you’re doing with California Policy Center is so vitally important.” – Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, speaking this week at CPC’s Janus anniversary celebration 

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