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A Year After High Court Janus Ruling, New Survey Shows Most Teachers Still Don’t Know They Can Opt Out of Union Membership, Dues

By Carolyn Phenicie | June 24, 2019

Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images

One year after the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, most teachers don’t know of the decision and the right it recognized of public-sector employees to opt out of union membership and corresponding dues, a new survey finds.

That knowledge gap, despite widespread media coverage and active union campaigns, may explain why a long-predicted drop in union membership post-Janus hasn’t materialized, one advocate said.

“Why haven’t more teachers opted out of the union? The survey shows they don’t know that they can,” Colin Sharkey, executive director of the Association of American Educators, a non-union teachers’ association that has sought to end mandatory union dues payments, said on a call with reporters Monday. AAE’s foundation sponsors the Teacher Freedom Project, which commissioned the poll.

Media representatives for the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the two largest teachers unions, did not respond to a request for comment. Union leaders have said they redoubled their efforts to recruit and retain members ahead of the Janus decision, and that teachers are seeing the value of membership.

YouGov conducted the online survey of 1,000 teachers between May 29 and June 9.

More than three-quarters of the 1,000 teachers hadn’t heard of the case Janus v. AFSCME, and slightly more than half, 52 percent, didn’t know that the ruling ended mandatory union dues for public-sector workers.

The survey also found that less than a quarter of respondents had re-evaluated their union membership in the wake of the decision, handed down a year ago on Thursday.

Of the 22 percent of respondents overall who had re-evaluated their membership, 16 percent stayed in the union, 5 percent said it made them more likely to leave the union, and 1 percent said they left.

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The level of knowledge about Janus wasn’t dramatically different between so-called Janus states, like New York, California and Illinois, where state law mandated that dissenting members continue paying part of their dues, and non-Janus states, where state law already permitted dissenting members to opt out, Sharkey said.

In California, where state unions worked on the issue extensively, 27 percent of teachers knew the Janus decision by name, Sharkey added — just 5 percent more than the national average.

Many teachers don’t know about the decision because little information has reached members, and they’re focused on other things, two Minnesota teachers, both of whom have opted out of union membership, said on the press call.

“Most teachers, they want to focus on teaching. They want to focus on their students … That’s the key part of it, but I think some of those things on membership and opt-out period need to be adjusted,” Daniel Elo, an elementary STEM teacher, said on the call.

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Mistaken beliefs about union benefits, and limitations on when dissenting members may withdraw, may also be factors in why more teachers aren’t leaving unions, Sharkey said. Those limitations are being challenged across the country.

Some teachers responding to the poll also incorrectly believed that they would lose various benefits if they left the union, including seniority status (12 percent), health insurance (18 percent), tenure protections (23 percent), pay increases negotiated by the union (25 percent) and other terms of the union-negotiated contract (32 percent).

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