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California union blames remote work for declining membership

Union leaders are blaming remote work for declining union membership in California after state data showed the amount of dues-paying union members declined by 3,750 from October 2021 to October 2022.

Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG) executive director Ted Toppin said, “It’s very difficult to make that connection, try as we might, over Zoom or WebEx…but that doesn’t mean we can stop.” Union membership among PECG members dropped 3% over the past year and currently sits at 78%, although the decline in membership was slightly offset after the union was able to unionize members of management.

Toppin added, “High percentages of membership provide you with the source of power at the bargaining table. That’s the power of the union message.”

PECG is not alone in facing declining members and dues paid; California’s largest public union, SEIU Local 1000, also saw membership decline over the past year. The union lost over 3,100 members across nine bargaining units, to which SEIU Local 1000 board chair Bill Hall said, “It’s been an uphill battle with membership.” Hall added, “Not being a member and saving your dues money has a cost, and the cost is that the Local 1000 has less bargaining power.”

Hall blamed the 2018 Supreme Court decision Janus v. AFSCME, as well as California’s alleged failure to give new hire contact information and new hire orientation dates to SEIU Local 1000. Hall also claimed union members are “leaving state service for better employment,” but acknowledged that internal turmoil, such as the suspension of his predecessor, could have discouraged members from paying dues.

Although PECG and SEIU Local 1000 saw declining membership numbers, other public unions saw increases of varying sizes. Cal Fire Local 2881 had an increase of 600 members from October 2021 to October 2022, the California Association of Professional Scientists increased their membership by 205 members, California Association of Highway Patrolmen added 40 members, and California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment increased their membership by 78 members.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.