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Empire Center – The Janus Stakes

Government unions in New York together constitute a major industry in their own right, annually collecting at least $862 million in dues and fees from more than 1 million employees.

The organizations wield considerable influence over public policy, aided by provisions of state law that make it easier for them to organize and to collect funds from the workers they represent. They are regularly among the largest spenders on lobbying, and spend considerable funds on political campaigns and elections.

Most union locals are affiliated with, and make payments to, national organizations. New York’s government unions also play an outsized role in the national labor movement.

However, this paradigm could soon be radically altered by a case to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Janus v. AFSCME, the plaintiff is challenging an Illinois law—similar to New York’s—which requires employees to pay “agency fees” to a union that represents their position, even if they haven’t chosen to join. The outcome of this case could substantially reduce the revenues and influence of government unions, especially in New York.

As shown in this report, if the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiff in Janus, New York state government and New York City municipal employees who have already indicated they would rather not belong to unions would save $53 million a year in dues-like fees. Extrapolating to other levels of local government, school districts and public authorities, the immediate savings for all New York public-sector workers opting out of union membership could come to more than $110 million—and could grow from there.

A pro-plaintiff ruling in Janus would also pose a logistical challenge for the large number of local governments, school districts and public authorities in New York that routinely withhold the equivalent of union dues from employee paychecks without distinguishing between actual union members and agency fee-paying non-members.

In light of their potential financial losses, New York’s government unions already have begun lobbying the state Legislature to pass laws designed to thwart a pro-plaintiff Janus ruling by making it much harder for employees to quit unions and stop paying dues. Without specifically endorsing the bill, Governor Andrew Cuomo indicated in his 2018 State of the State address that he will side with the unions.

This report provides an overview of the current landscape of union representation, finances, lobbying and political activity in New York State. It concludes with recommendations designed to strengthen the rights of government workers and the oversight of union finances that are ultimately derived from taxpayer-funded salaries.

Read the full report here