Press Release

New Union Membership Data Reveal Anti-Worker Assault Is Failing

Bureau of Labor Statistics Update Shows Public Sector Unions Holding Strong

For Release:


Andrew Crook
o: 202-393-8637 | c: 607-280-6603
Omar Tewfik
Miguel Gonzalez
Sara Lonardo

WASHINGTON—The vicious anti-worker assault on American public sector unions—epitomized by the Janus Supreme Court case—has failed to gain traction, new data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm.

Despite a multimillion-dollar, decades-long war waged by special interests on public sector workers’ right to join together for a better life—culminating in Janus, which was meant to “defund and defang” unions—official statistics show 2018 public sector membership held strong at 7,167,000, a marginal 0.5 percent decline, with total U.S. union membership at 14,721,000 million. Public service unions have all seen more membership joins than drops since the decision.

Since Janus was decided in June, its funders have poured millions of dollars into deceptive campaigns encouraging public service workers to quit their unions, while continuing to manipulate the judicial system to attack the rights and freedoms of working people. But courts are increasingly siding with workers over special interests in the face of attempts to further disenfranchise working families by asking judges to reverse pre-existing and sound law.

The legal merits, the facts and public opinion have always been on the side of working people.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders said: “Momentum is on our side. Public support for unions is at its highest level in 15 years, and elected officials nationwide are embracing unionism as the key to unrigging an economy that overwhelmingly favors the privileged and powerful over working families. Our challenge now is to make it easier for working people to join unions—the one way for workers to get the dignity and respect they deserve.”

“After the Janus ruling I got a letter telling me that I didn’t have to pay fair share fees anymore unless I wanted to,” said Todd Bennington, principal planning analyst for Hennepin County Human Services in Minnesota and a member of AFSCME Council 5, Local 2864. “That’s when I became a member. Being a member is very important to me, particularly in the wake of that decision. It’s important because I believe in the power of collective action, that working together we have a lot more power to effect change in the world and in our own lives. A sense of community and connectedness is so much more appealing to me than the idea of every person for himself. Collectively, we’re going to get a lot better outcomes.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said: “It’s heartening that working people have seen straight through these right-wing groups’ brazen attempts to destroy our union and other democratically run, independent public sector unions. In fact, our union is growing, and winning. Since Janus, we have had 11 organizing wins, adding thousands of new members across higher education, healthcare and PSRP units.

“Union members have sent a clear message to the anti-labor right-wing ideologues: We are sticking with the union. While the right wing has many acts left in its playbook, Janus and the follow-up attacks have backfired. Educators, nurses, grad workers and so many others are joining unions because they see them as vehicles for a better life, a voice at work and a vibrant democracy. This week, the Los Angeles teachers are on strike to ensure students have the resources they need to succeed. The attacks will continue, but our members—and the American labor movement as a whole—are determined to stare them down and emerge stronger than ever.”

According to AFT member Holly Kimpon, a high school biology and anatomy teacher and president of the Genoa Area Education Association in Ohio, “It’s no different now than it was in June when the Janus ruling came out: The teachers in our district will stick together and stick with our union to make sure we have a say in the future of our kids.” Kimpon continued, “I come from a rural and conservative part of Ohio, and all but one of our teachers are dues-paying members, and not one has left the union. In fact, all six new staff members hired this year joined the union. Why? Because we know that our ability to create a safe learning environment for our students and make teaching a viable profession comes directly from being part of a strong union.”

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said: “Support for unions remains strong, even in the face of continual attacks on the rights of working people by corporate special interests, because unions represent the voice of working people in the fight against an economy rigged against the middle class. The NEA remains the nation’s largest labor union because educators—from West Virginia to California and in cities across America—know that together we have a powerful voice to make sure that our students have the public schools they deserve.”

“After the Janus decision, many people across the country wrote off labor unions,” said Jay V. Barbuto, a seventh- and eighth-grade language arts teacher from Phoenix. “You know what they didn't consider? Reality. The constant struggle our students face in their schools due to a lack of funding and resources. Educators and support professionals who live check to check because of their undervalued pay. Educators like me will continue to advocate for our students and colleagues as a collective power—as a union—regardless of any decision made by politicians or powerful special interests.”

Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry said: “The numbers back up what we’ve seen all across the nation: Public service workers are sticking together in unions because they know they are stronger together. When workers are united, they have the power in numbers to have a strong voice for the good jobs and quality public services our communities need.”

“I’ve had several conversations with co-workers about how important it is we maintain a united front to continue winning higher wages and better working conditions,” said Adam Korst, a graphic designer for the city of Beaverton, Ore., and SEIU Local 503 member. “While extremist groups like the Freedom Foundation continue to attack our rights and encourage us to drop our membership, we must strengthen our resolve and fight harder than ever. The assault on working people is an assault on all of us who have come together and gained the right to voice what we want and need in the workplace.”


Not only does the strategy to get members to quit their unions appear to be backfiring, but so does the anti-worker legal crusade in the wake of Janus. Recently, in Danielson v. AFSCME Council 28, a case out of Washington state, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington tossed out an attempt to force AFSCME to pay back lawfully collected fair share fees that public service workers chipped in to help cover the cost of collective bargaining prior to the Janus decision. The court ruled that the fees were collected in good faith. In Fisk v. Inslee, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit also rejected an effort by such groups to cancel contracts made between public service workers and their unions.

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.