Unions take hit after Janus

ILEPI’s ‘State of the Unions’ finds they still hike overall wages 11 percent

Union EPA workers rally in Chicago this summer. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Union EPA workers rally in Chicago this summer. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in the Janus case slowed union momentum, but an annual report on “The State of the Unions” released on Labor Day found that they nonetheless helped hike overall wages 11 percent for Illinois workers.

The Illinois Economic Policy Institute released its sixth annual report on “The State of the Unions” Monday. Although union membership rose in last year’s study from 2017, both overall and by percentage of Illinois workers, this year’s study found it resumed a decades-long decline in 2018 — especially after the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling was handed down at the end of June.

Overall, this year’s study found, Illinois union membership declined by about 42,000 workers, from 828,000 in 2017 to 786,000 last year, dropping from 15 percent of Illinois workers to 13.8 percent. The study found the Janus ruling “may have affected public sector union membership.” It cited that government employees were especially hard hit, as the percentage of unions workers in the public sector dropped 4.5 percentage points, “with all of the decrease occurring between July 2018 and December of 2018.”

“Labor unions have recently faced many legislative and judicial setbacks including the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which may have affected unionization rates,” said Professor Robert Bruno, a co-author of the study, who also serves as director of the Project for Middle Class Renewal at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


“Labor unions have recently faced many legislative and judicial setbacks including the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which may have affected unionization rates.”

Professor Robert Bruno (Twitter)

In the immediate wake of the Janus ruling, former Gov. Rauner and the Illinois Policy Institute led efforts to get workers to opt out of their unions.

Nevertheless, public-sector unions remained the backbone of the movement in the greater Chicago area and statewide. Union membership topped 46 percent in both those regions, well above the national average of 34 percent. More than half of local government workers on the municipal and county level were unionized in Chicago and statewide, again well above the national average of 41 percent. More than 40 percent of Chicago-area state and federal employees were unionized and more than 36 percent statewide, again well above the national average.

Yet there was no denying that union membership statewide declined over the decade from 2009 through last year, dropping from 17.5 percent to 13.8 percent, or about 165,000 workers. In the greater Chicago area, the unionization rate dropped over that decade from 17.1 percent to 12.9 percent, as the national average also dropped from 12.3 percent to 10.5 percent.

In the private sector, just 8.7 percent of workers statewide belonged to a union.

Even so, unions continued to drive wages up — not only for union workers, but for the entire workforce. The study estimated that unions raise hourly wages by an average of 11 percent across Illinois.

“Unions raise wages for everyone, but especially for low-income and middle-class workers,” said Frank Manzo IV, ILEPI policy director and another co-author of the study. “Unions reduce inequality, provide family-supporting careers for our nation’s heroes, and foster a strong middle class in communities across Illinois.”

The study found that African Americans, veterans, and rural workers “are disproportionately more likely to be union members,” and that “unionization rates are higher for men and middle-ages workers than for women and young workers.”

In the end, the study finds the union movement at a crossroads in Illinois, stating: “Unions play an important role in Illinois’s economy and communities. Illinois’s labor movement, however, faces challenges from both the political and economic spheres. Labor’s response to thesechallenges will define its influence and effectiveness in the decades to come and will have important implications for the state’s middle class.”

It did find reasons for optimism nationally, stating: “There are signs, however, that 2018 may have been a turning point for the U.S. labor movement. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 62 percent of Americans now approve of labor unions, the highest level of support since 2003. This support was reflected in the 2018 wave of teachers’ strikes in places like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, and Los Angeles — where public-school teachers won pay raises, additional resources for support staff, and increased levels of funding. Unions also scored a major electoral victory when Missouri residents overwhelmingly rejected the state’s ‘right-to- work’ policy, with 67.5 percent of voters casting ballots against the law. In total, ‘right- to-work’ was rejected in 89 of Missouri’s 103 counties (86 percent).”

The study was executed by ILEPI, UIUC, and the University of California, Irvine.

Ted Cox