For Immediate Release
Contact: Omar Tewfik

‘Workers chose to stick with their union’: AFSCME Posts Strong Membership Numbers in New Filing with Department of Labor

Gain of 9,000 new working members and 19,000 retirees, despite Janus v. AFSCME decision and right-wing efforts to ‘defund and defang’ public service unions and urging members to quit

Overall, union retained 94 percent of all represented workers, defying expectations over Supreme Court decision fallout

Threats remain; AFSCME focused on organizing, 2020 and continued wins in the courts

WASHINGTON —  The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) submitted its annual LM-2 filing with the Department of Labor, which requires all unions to report the number of members and agency fee payers they represent. AFSCME’s filing shows a gain of 9,097 dues-paying members and 18,638 dues-paying retirees over the union’s report last year, suggesting that efforts by the billionaires and corporations behind the Janus v. AFSCME case and the anti-worker majority of the United States Supreme Court to “defund and defang” public service unions have fallen flat. 

The report is the first since Janus v. AFSCME, the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling which held that requiring fees from public service workers who receive union benefits but choose not to join the union is unconstitutional. In the wake of the decision, the report shows that, overall, the union retained 94 percent of workers it represents, including both dues-paying members and fee payers. According to the report, AFSCME represents 1,329,594 working members, agency fee payers in the private sector and retirees, compared to 1,411,877 reported last year. Though this represents a bottom-line decrease of 6 percent thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision, it crushed union analysts’ expectations, which anticipated a loss upwards of 30 percent.

“In overwhelming numbers, AFSCME members have blunted the attacks of the wealthy special interests and chosen to stick with their union. Nurses, school employees, corrections officers, emergency medical technicians and others will not forfeit their seat at the table or let their voices be silenced. They will continue to assert their rights and freedoms,” said Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME.

The union’s AFSCME Strong campaign, launched in 2014, was essential to this success. AFSCME Strong represented a major culture shift, prioritizing one-on-one conversations and member-to-member engagement, modernized communications, a state-of-the art data infrastructure, and political engagement that has seen members advocating for and mobilizing behind candidates who support working families. In all, AFSCME Strong resulted in more than 1 million conversations between AFSCME members about the value of union membership since 2014.

A Growth Agenda and 2020

Since 2016, AFSCME has won 245 organizing campaigns and has ramped up those efforts across the country in both the public and private sectors.

There is also momentum in public and political support for unions and pro-worker solutions to a rigged system in which the richest few continue to take advantage of working people. At 62 percent, unions have reached their highest level of support in 15 years. Meanwhile, lawmakers and presidential candidates are increasingly advocating pro-worker policies, from a living wage to universal health care to student debt.

“Public service workers never quit doing everything possible to keep their communities safe and strong. The best way to do that is to come together in a strong union and negotiate for improvements that benefit everyone – lower nurse-patient ratios, smaller classroom sizes, better equipment for EMTs and higher funding for road repairs,” said Saunders.

The Battle in the Courts

Meanwhile, right-wing groups continue to rely on courts to implement an unpopular anti-worker agenda. But AFSCME and other public service unions continue to rack up victories in these cases:

  • Federal courts in Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Alaska, Ohio and California have rejected corporate interest groups’ bids to require unions to pay back agency fees that were collected and spent in representing the workers prior to the Janus decision. These courts have found that the unions acted in good faith and in accordance with controlling law at the time. In fact, the Illinois district court ruled that Mark Janus, the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME, is entitled to no damages. Any other result, these courts have noted, would promote lawlessness and erode the judiciary’s standing in the eyes of the public.
  • In two separate cases this month, judges preliminarily halted two Missouri laws, one that would eliminate merit system protections and collective bargaining over job protections for state employees and another that would hamstring all Missouri public service workers’ rights to collectively bargain. Both judges held that the respective laws violated Missourians’ fundamental right to collectively bargain, a right enshrined in the state constitution.
  • In February, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Mentele v. SEIU Local 925, rejected the Freedom Foundation’s and National Right to Work Foundation’s attempts to eliminate exclusive representation in labor relations, a bedrock principle of American labor relations.

“The Janus case taught us two things: first, the anti-worker Supreme Court majority cares more about rigging the system in favor of corporate interests than about facts and precedent,” said Saunders. “Second, public service workers are resilient and see the value of union membership. We will not let five justices determine the future of our union. We will fight any attempt to break our bonds of solidarity. We will continue to build power together to lift up our families and our communities.”