New York state and local government workers could save at least $112 million a year if a pending U.S. Supreme Court case puts an end to compulsory fee collections for government unions, according to a new report from the Empire Center for Public Policy.
In the case of Janus v. AFSCME, due to be argued before the Supreme Court on February 26, an Illinois state government employee is challenging the practice of withholding dues-like “agency fees” from the paychecks of workers whose jobs are covered by a union contract but who choose not to join that particular union. New York has a similar agency fee law that would be struck down if the plaintiff prevails.
The Empire Center report provides a sweeping overview of government union finances and political clout in New York, which has the most heavily unionized state and local government sector in the country. In 2016, New York government unions collected $862 million in dues and fees, according to the report. Of that amount, the report finds that $53 million was automatically deducted from the paychecks of New York City and state employees who chose not to become union members. The report estimates that $59 million in additional agency fees came from workers in other local governments, school districts and public authorities.
“The Janus case boils down to a fundamental question of whether workers should be forced to pay an organization, especially one as political as a government union, as a condition of keeping their job,” said Ken Girardin, the Empire Center analyst who wrote the report. “It’s already clear that many government workers don’t want to financially support their workplace union, and only pay agency fees because they’re forced to. Ending agency fees will save New Yorkers more than $100 million a year.”
Citing evidence from other states, as well as the temporary dues drop-off experienced by New York City unions in the wake of illegal strikes, Girardin predicts that the end of compulsory agency fee payments would result in membership drops of 20 percent for New York State United Teachers and 26 percent for the state’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees councils, including Civil Service Employees Association and District Council 37.
The report says many New York state and local government agencies will need to update their payroll systems to ensure they can promptly comply with a decision ending compulsory fee collections. It also recommends that the state adopt stronger financial transparency guidelines for government unions, and that the Legislature and Governor Cuomo reject bills designed to make it harder for government workers to leave union rolls.
The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.