Unexpectedly Intriguing!
March 12, 2015

Back in 2011, we did some back of the envelope math to estimate the degree to which big labor unions might be gouging their rank and file members. We went state by state in looking at how much "surplus" revenue that the local state branches of the National Education Association (NEA) or American Federation of Teachers (AFT) were collecting in member dues that might be considered to be far in excess of the amount actually needed to simply represent the interests of union members at their employers.

In doing that, we identified the states where Big Labor would appear to have stuck their greedy hands much too deeply in the pockets of their members in 2008 and 2009, finding a unique correlation with the partisan control of the state's legislatures in the process. Here's how we described our analytical results at the national and worst state levels:

We see that at the national level, where surplus member dues exceed 63% of the total member dues collected. Using our 25% threshold as the cap for "legitimate" union representation expenses, this suggests that the portion of teachers union dues that go to the national affiliate of the NEA could be reduced by 40% without impacting the ability of the teachers to have their interests effectively represented at this level.

The states whose education unions are most gouging their teachers members include Hawaii (with surplus member dues of 66% and 34% for the state's two NEA affiliates), California (54%), New Jersey (52.1%), Ohio (50.7%), Florida (42.0%), Nevada (41.6%), Massachusetts (37.6%) and Wisconsin (35.6%). At a minimum, teachers' union dues could be reduced by anywhere from 10% to 25% in these states without impacting the union affiliates ability to just represent the teachers at their employers.

Finally, we note a significant divergence between states with legislatures controlled by members of the Democratic party and those states whose legislatures are either controlled by the Republicans or are split between the two major U.S. political parties.

One of the main differences is that states with Republican legislatures are much more likely to institute "right to work" policies that prevent labor unions from being able to force employees in the state to join labor unions as a condition of employment, which stands in stark contrast to the restrictive policies instituted by state legislatures controlled by the Democratic party and its Big Labor fundraising organizations. The following chart tallies how differently "surplus" union dues collections were back in 2008 and 2009.

Surplus Revenue from Teachers Union Member Dues by Political Party Controlling State Legislature in 2008-09

Flashing forward to today, we have a very interesting anecdote from the state of Wisconsin, where the Republican party-controlled state legislature just passed right to work legislation, in which labor unions, sensing their impending defeat, have already begun sharply reducing their membership dues in the face of plunging membership:

Unions representing teachers, professors, trash collectors and other government employees are struggling to stem plummeting membership rolls and retain relevance in the state where they got their start.

Here in King, Magnant and her fellow AFSCME members, workers at a local veterans home, have been knocking on doors on weekends to persuade former members to rejoin. Community college professors in Moraine Park, home to a technical college, are reducing dues from $59 to $36 each month. And those in Milwaukee are planing a campaign using videos and posters to highlight union principles. The theme: ­“Remember.”


The state branch of the National Education Association, once 100,000 strong, has seen its membership drop by a third. The American Federation of Teachers, which organized in the college system, saw a 50 percent decline. The 70,000-person membership in the state employees union has fallen by 70 percent.

Here, we have a clear example of a local branch of the NEA slashing their dues by $23 per month, a reduction of 39% from the excessively high dues they had previously imposed on their members. That reduction is right in line with our estimate of how much the state's big teachers unions were gouging their members of 35.6% back in 2008-09.

On a side note, we'll observe that a number of Big Labor organizations will cite the apparently lower wages earned by workers in "right to work" states as compared to other states as a reason to oppose instituting the laws that prevent them from imposing membership dues that gouge their members.

Here, we'll simply observe that such analysis is fatally flawed because it almost invariably fails to account for the relative cost of living in each state as well as their respective tax burdens. What matters more than basic income figures in measuring the relative well-being of people is the measure of what they can buy with their after-tax and after-labor-union-dues incomes in the places they live.

If Big Labor really wanted to do right by its remaining members, they would act to stop gouging them and slash the surplus portion of their dues by at least 75-90% in all non-right-to-work states and get out of the Democratic party fundraising business, which just hasn't worked out well for them since they made it their primary purpose in a sad bid to remain relevant.

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