Membership declines, but unions still double down on politics

It’s no secret government unions have achieved near total power in politics, but based on declining membership numbers, there appears to be a diminishing appetite among public employees for unions’ political agendas.

According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the public-sector union membership rate continued to decline in 2022. The overall union membership rate “fell to its lowest levels since the government began tracking it in 1983,” writes Matthew Brouillette in RealClear Pennsylvania. “Nearly 9 out of 10 American workers are not in a union, despite union efforts to organize them.”

This hasn’t kept unions, though, from continuing to spend millions of dollars to advance a progressive agenda.

“You’d think that in the face of diminishing interest among workers, unions would focus more on listening to their members,” continues Brouillette. “They’ve become powerful special interests themselves… Ironically, unions’ growing spending on politics — and in support of radical policies — is driving dues-paying members away.”

For Minnesota, around 23 percent of the state’s employees were members of labor unions in 1983. Today, that number is down to just under 16 percent, according to state-by-state breakdowns of Current Population Survey data from Unionstats, a database created by labor researchers at Georgia State University and Trinity University.

Minnesota’s teachers’ union, Education Minnesota, continued to lose members from 2021-2022, marking the second consecutive year Minnesota teachers said “no thanks” to union members and the third consecutive year for Education Support Professionals.

Out of the $32 million Education Minnesota brought in through dues from Sept. 1, 2021-August 31, 2022, not even half was spent on representational activities. Nearly $2.3 million went toward what the union self-identifies as “political activities and lobbying.” (Separate from the nearly $4 million that the union’s PAC funneled into state elections.) The National Education Association — one of the national teachers’ unions Minnesota teacher members pay dues to — spent millions of dollars more on “political activities and lobbying” than on its representational activities during the same time period.

Despite driving members away, unions are doubling down on financing a political agenda that “protects their political and financial power,” concludes Brouillette. Time will tell if this results in an eventual erosion of unions’ immense political influence.