Public sector unions in Connecticut say they expect to lose between five and ten percent of their membership in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that allows workers to opt out of paying dues.
Until now, dues have been automatically deducted from paychecks for public sector workers. Now all workers will have the choice whether to pay, even though they benefit from collective bargaining efforts by the union.
The case was brought by an employee of the state of Illinois, Mark Janus, who asked the court to overturn 40 years of legal precedent.
The decision is causing headaches for local governments around the country, including Connecticut where Jody Barr, executive director of AFSCME Council 4 says the governor’s budget office is wrestling with practical questions.
"The decision went into effect, and then what happens to wages that were paid before that?" he told Connecticut Public Radio's Where We Live. "If you worked three days before it, and those dues were taken out, do those still come to the union, does the state hold onto them, do we give them back?”
Barr said the union has been engaging in one-on-one conversations with as many of their 30,000 members as they can about the implications of Janus.
“This decision sort of poked a bear," he said. "Our members are frustrated and they keep asking us, how is this fair? How did this happen? And I think it’s engaged them to become more involved in the overall union and the goals and values that we believe in.”
Studies of right-to-work states where workers do not have to pay dues, show that wage levels drop as union membership declines.
"In most places where this type of ruling has gone down, wages and benefits have declined," said Alana Semuels, a staff writer at The Atlantic. She says studies in the wake of Janus estimate that wages of government employees will drop by three percent, and those of public school teachers by five percent.