Oregon Public Employee Unions Losing Dues from State Workers

  According to state data, the number of state employees paying union dues has dropped significantly since 2018. 

Prior to June 2018, public sector workers who opted not to join a union were still required to pay “fair share” fees, as they were still being represented by the union. Then, in Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court ruled that “States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees.”  

Since then, SEIU 503 has lost 26 percent of their dues-paying state workers, an overall decrease of 5,555. Likewise, the AFSCME Council 75 experienced a 16 percent reduction, or 1,009 people.  

Professor Gordon Lafer of the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center put the situation into perspective for the East Oregonian: “I always think of this as, if the city of Eugene told me that the part of my tax that goes to pay for the fire department is now optional, but they’ll still come and put out the flames if my house catches on fire.”   

Lafer also said that state employees who aren’t necessarily anti-union may still choose not to pay dues because “times are tough and one of your bills just became optional.”   

Union representatives have taken a “glass half full” stance on the statistics. According to SEIU 503 spokesman Ben Morris, “The Janus decision was supposed to be the death knell of the labor movement. That was the narrative that was put out there around that. And we are just not seeing that happen.” He noted that the downward trend in union membership was recently bucked by an influx of roughly 900 state workers to SEIU 503 between June and September.  

However, Lafer warns that the reduction in fees could result in a vicious cycle: With fewer people choosing to pay their dues, unions can’t afford to do as much, causing more members to leave. “They’re more thinly stretched, and then more people feel like, ‘Well, what am I paying dues for?’ And the things, slowly over time, can snowball like that. From a union’s point of view, that’s the danger.”  

By Brandon Urey