Unions enjoy big clout, but membership declining

The 2016-18 legislative session, which ended last week, provided more proof of the symbiotic relationship between California’s labor unions and the Legislature’s Democratic majority.

While they didn’t get everything they wanted from the Legislature, unions – particularly those representing state and local government workers – won far more skirmishes than they lost.

The record was a testament to the central role that union leaders play in recruiting and financing Democratic candidates for the Legislature, many of them union activists themselves, and in the unparalleled clout that union lobbyists enjoy when legislation is being drafted behind closed doors.

That said, Labor Day 2018 finds California unions seeing a downward trend in membership that could accelerate now that the U.S. Supreme Court has decreed that workers who don’t belong to unions cannot be compelled to pay even partial dues.

Even before the landmark Janus decision was issued this year, California unions were seeing membership erosion, from a peak of 18.9 percent of California’s workers in 1989 to 15.5 percent in 2017, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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