In the next week, the United States Supreme Court will rule in Janus v. AFSCMEwhether agency fees are unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Twenty-two states compel non-union teachers to pay agency fees, or partial dues, to the union that represented them in contract negotiations. Those agency fees keep teachers' union membership, and revenue, high in those states. The consensus is that the Janus ruling will be a major blow to teachers' unions.
Large membership numbers have allowed teachers' unions to be major players in national Democratic politics. During the 2016 election cycle, the NEA and AFT combined for more than $60 million in individual, super-PAC, and soft money spending, making them, collectively, the second-highest contributors out of more than 19,000 organizations. More than 90 percent of those donations went to Democratic Party causes. A decline in membership could lessen the political power teachers' unions currently wield.
What will happen to teachers' unions in a world without agency fees? One large, internal union poll found that without agency fees, 35 percent of its members would remain in the union, 15 percent would leave, and fully 50 percent were undecided. Teachers' unions are expecting membership losses after Janus, but the future of one of the country's most powerful interest groups depends on whether declines are closer to 15 or 65 percent.