Fears v. Facts: Debunking Myths about Opting Out

Many individuals are not sure what is true or not about their union membership and their right to choose whether or not they'd like to be part of a traditional union. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of misinformation circulating about workers' rights and the resources available to them. 

About your health benefits and pension

Many workers are interested in leaving the union but are hesitant to do so for fear of losing access to their healthcare and pension plan. An internal CSEA FAQ document from 2018 clarified: “If you choose to leave or drop membership [of a union], you would lose any Union benefits that are outside of the contract. It’s true that you would continue to be covered by all benefits negotiated in the contract, including health, dental and vision plans.”

Fortunately, most workers’ have their healthcare and pension plans guaranteed by state law, and thus these benefits are completely unrelated to union membership. You can determine which of your benefits are state-guaranteed and which are provided by your union by reading documents associated with your job: your employment contract, the collective bargaining agreement that governs your employment, or your employee handbook.

If you do not have access to these documents, you can request a copy from your HR department, your direct supervisor at work, or through the union that represents your job. If you need help accessing these documents, please contact membership@americanpublicservants.org as we would be happy to help.


About your right to join or leave a union

In 2018, the Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME restored the right for public sector employees to choose whether or not they join the union associated with their job. Previously, public sector employees could be compelled to pay union dues or equivalent fees known as “agency fees” as a condition of their employment.

Since the 2018 Janus decision, some employees have chosen to leave their traditional union, and others have chosen to remain dues-paying union members. APSA serves as a safety net for those who have left the union, or are contemplating leaving.

Here are a number of different resources about what it means at work when you exercise your right to choose whether or not to be part of a union:

  • The National Right to Work Foundation, a well-established charitable organization working to eliminate coercive union power, has detailed information here on specific employment situations workers might encounter as they contemplate leaving a union.
  • The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), a national leader and certification organization for HR professionals issued this guidance on how to responsibly handle changes in union membership in the workforce.
  •  The American Public Transit Association issued this legal guidance to its members and employers: “Supervisors should be trained about three aspects of Janus….employees must not be rewarded or punished based on their decisions [about union membership].”
  •  Baker Hostetler, one of the largest legal firms in the country, issued this legal guidance to public-sector employers about how the Janus decision affects work places, saying “Moving forward, according to the Court, employees must “clearly and affirmatively” consent to pay the union before any fees are taken from their paychecks. That signifies that all public employees – not just non-member, agency fee payers – must affirmatively opt in to paying any type of union fee, rather than being required to opt out.”

Other general information

Here’s some information on traditional unions that is often cited as reasons why workers opt-out:

  • The nonpartisan organization Open Secrets tracks how money is spent in government. They report that public sector unions spend a vast amount of money on lobbying efforts in local, state, and federal politics

  • The organization Americans for Fair Treatment reports on where union dues are spent nationally, including political lobbying and campaign financing.

  • This 2021 report by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research details how unions spent $1.8 billion on the 2020 election alone, mostly funded directly by membership dues.

  • Unions with an annual budget over $250,000 must submit reports to the U.S. Department of Labor. These reports detail what membership dues were spent on and union representative compensation, among other things. Those reports are searchable here, so you can investigate for yourself by entering your union's "local" number.