Prior to last June’s Supreme Court ruling that those choosing not to join public-employee unions could not be required to pay a modified form of dues known as agency fees, some unions feared the worst and took pains to educate their members on the potential problems that could cause.
It apparently was time well spent. Public-employee unions in places like Wisconsin where local government approved legislation stripping them of key powers suffered significant drops in membership. Here, however, members apparently grasped that if their unions were weakened, any savings they might realize from not paying dues would be overwhelmed by what might no longer be gained at the bargaining table.
No doubt it helped that Governor Cuomo in April signed legislation making public-employee-union membership a prerequisite for obtaining free legal representation in grievance and disciplinary hearings. But even with the added incentive to retain membership or, for former agency-fee-payers, to finally join their organizations, union officials have been pleasantly surprised by the response.
The United Federation of Teachers just reported a gain in membership and a drop of more than 1,000 in those choosing not to join. District Council 37 President Henry Garrido a week earlier said his union, which a few years ago included nearly 28,000 agency-fee-payers, now has a record enrollment of 96 percent of the 124,000 employees it represents. And the Professional Staff Congress and New York State United Teachers have also succeeded in signing up many people who were previously nonmembers.
It was expected that peer pressure within the city’s uniformed unions would prevent defections in their ranks from members with visions of a free ride. The fact that civilian employees have shown that they don’t need to lose key rights and benefits to appreciate their value and the work their unions did in securing them is heartening.
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