“What do you want to do when you grow up?” As a 20-year-old college student, I remain unsure of how to answer that question, but there is one thing I am sure about: I want my work to change people’s lives for the better. That is why I came to intern with the Mackinac Center this summer. Every person I have met here strives to improve people’s lives through sound policy, and every project I have worked on contributes to that goal.
One of these projects involves measuring the changes in union membership since 2018, when the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision ruled forced unionization for public employees was unconstitutional. This case was a major victory for right-to-work efforts, but it was not the end of the struggle to free employees from mandatory union dues or agency fees. The Mackinac Center’s Workers for Opportunity initiative educates workers about their rights and resists unions’ attempts to hang on to unwilling members through unannounced dues skimming and limited opt-out windows.
Since the Janus decision, the number of government workers paying union dues has dropped by an estimated 10-15%. Along with Caleb Baker, the other communications intern, I was assigned to update the numbers used to calculate that percentage. The two of us sent out hundreds of public records requests to states, cities, counties and school districts across the United States. Under statewide government transparency laws, we requested the number of employees paying union dues from each entity, then added this year’s numbers to a data set that goes back to 2018.
As we input the responses, the trend became clear: Union membership keeps declining nationwide. Three years after the Janus decision, tens of thousands of employees continue to opt out of union dues annually, illustrating the importance of the Mackinac Center’s endeavors to ensure workers can exercise their Janus rights.
I try to keep in mind that the drop in the number of those paying money to a union is not just a statistic in a spreadsheet. Thanks to the Janus decision and the ensuing battles fought by Workers for Opportunity and other like-minded organizations, public sector workers are better off. They can exercise their freedom to choose what speech they support and what groups they associate with, instead of being forced to financially support politically involved organizations they may not agree with. One in five of these employees has used his or her newfound freedom to walk away from a union – and if the downward trend continues, more workers will follow.
The right-to-work fight started long before my summer at the Mackinac Center, and it will last long after I have returned to college. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to contribute to this project, and I will continue to watch how it changes workers’ lives for the better.