Presidents representing locals within the Communications Workers of America gathered in Washington this week ahead of an expected U.S. Supreme Court decision that could drastically change how union fees are collected in public-sector unions.
President Jill Bleed attended the one-day meeting to represent the News Media Guild.
CWA President Chris Shelton told the nearly 300 delegates at the CWA presidents’ meeting that unions must look beyond members’ individual needs to the broader issue of keeping unions alive. CWA has made an effort to sign up new members as part of an initiative called CWA Strong in anticipation of the Janus court decision, which deals with whether a non-member in a public sector union must pay agency fees.
CWA represents hundreds of thousands of public- and private-sector workers in the media, telecommunications, airline, information technology and other industries. Shelton says that the union has added more than 7,300 new members in the public-sector unit as part of CWA Strong since 2016.
In New Jersey, public-sector locals are at record membership levels, while membership in right-to-work states is stable or growing, Shelton said.
If the high court rules against the unions, CWA is expected to lose revenue from about 25,000 agency fee payers _ or about $6.5 million, according to CWA Secretary/Treasurer Sara Steffens. The union has committed to cutting its budget (excluding staff and salaries) but Steffens said a longer-term fix is needed.
“We can’t cut our way out of this problem,” she said.
To stay viable, the union must have strong stewards, active and well-run locals, and keep in contact with current and future members, Steffens said.
The News Media Guild, funded in part by a CWA grant, has added 40 new members in the past year under the CWA Strong initiative.