Despite a variety of setbacks and membership declines at the national level, Minnesota union leaders say their members have been energized by the recent wave of high-profile labor movements.

This fall’s strike by General Motors employees and the Chicago teachers’ walkout are seen as unions flexing their muscles after several years of waning power. Chet Jorgenson, president of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, said his union has even benefited from some of the negative rhetoric that led up to those actions.

“Our members have really become motivated,” he said, “with the threats that have come, and just these attempts to try and silence people’s voices.”

He pointed to a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Janus v. AFSCME. It said unions can’t require workers to pay for representation, even if the union negotiates contracts on their behalf. After that ruling, Jorgenson said, his union’s compliance rate for dues-paying members increased, from around 68% to 75%.

Another labor group in the state has seen a similar response to that ruling and other attempts to weaken union influence. Jo Musel-Parr, organizing director of AFSCME Council 65, said the court’s decision prompted nearly 200 members to drop their membership – but the same ruling also was the inspiration to attract even more members.

“We had 2,572 new members who have signed up post the Janus decision that would not have had to sign up,” she said.

Minnesota’s union membership is slightly more than 14%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, the union membership rate was 10.5% in 2018, down from more than 20% in 1983. Those Minnesota statistics are online at bls.gov.

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