ALBANY — The state’s largest teachers’ union lost thousands of workers from its ranks since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June that makes it easier for workers to leave the union representing them, according to federal records.
The politically influential New York State United Teachers said it has lost 6,000 to 7,000 workers from its ranks.
This conflicts with federal Labor Department records that show a drop of 28,057 workers. But NYSUT officials said Wednesday that's because the union is amending its filings to reflect the gain of thousands of new members.
This year, the politically influential New York State United Teachers union has 427,598 members and nonmembers paying what are now optional fees to cover the cost of their representation by NYSUT, according to the latest annual report to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The new filings will reflect the addition of former workers who had paid "agency fees," but have since joined the union and some new hiring by school districts, the NYSUT officials said.
The membership numbers exclude retirees who are still considered members of the union, according to federal records.
The figures are a snapshot of the ranks as of Aug. 31 of each year. The reports filed this fall are the first since the Janus v. AFSCME ruling.
Other major unions in New York also expected losses, but most unions aren’t required to file the federal labor-management reports that NYSUT must file because of its size and jurisdiction.
“Despite the Janus decision, the overwhelming response from our members is that they’re sticking with our union,” said Shannon Hutton, director of communications for the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents state and local government workers.
“Based on the daily calls we’re receiving, we expect this trend to continue,” Hutton said. “Our members aren’t being fooled into giving up their hard-won rights and protections to save a few bucks. We still have nearly 300,000 members.”
She wouldn’t provide figures on membership or losses. The union has reported representing about 300,000 since at least 2010.
In the Janus v. AFSCME court decision in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to force workers to pay fees to a union they didn’t want to join. The fees covered only the costs of collective bargaining, representation in disciplinary actions and other services by the union, not the union’s political activity.
“NYSUT for decades operated by taking money from people who didn’t have a choice but to pay them,” said Ken Giardin, who has researched the issue at the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy think tank. “When the court gave teachers and other school workers a choice, many took it.”
After the ruling, some national unions predicted membership losses would eventually range from 10 percent to 50 percent. But in New York, which has a strong union tradition, public unions said they didn’t expect a big loss. However, unions in New York have lost revenue from at least 31,000 state workers who were freed by the court decision from paying fees to unions they had refused to join, according to the state comptroller's office.
“In the big picture, NYSUT members are sticking with the union," said Carl Korn, NYSUT’s chief press officer. "They see the value of being part of a strong union that fights for them in the workplace. They understand that signing a union card means higher pay, better benefits and a secure retirement — on top of a voice on the job. They're not going to be fooled by campaigns run by billionaires who want to take that away."
NYSUT prepared for the potential loss in the Supreme Court through greater outreach to members and agency fee payers who hadn’t joined the union. Korn said the result has been a stronger membership than before the Janus decision.