Commonwealth Foundation: Union Membership Data Transparency Lacking

Member Group : Center Square

(The Center Square) – A report on how public-sector unionism was affected by a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision has drawn attention to a central problem: the lack of data transparency on union membership and the fees public-sector unions receive.

In response to a story from The Center Square, the Commonwealth Foundation is disputing the Pennsylvania numbers in a Manhattan Institute report but is in agreement on another conclusion. Commonwealth says public-sector union membership fell in the state, rather than increased, since the Janus v. AFSCME ruling that declared public-sector unions couldn’t compel workers to join or pay membership fees.

“But government employment in [Pennsylvania] didn’t grow by 100,000; it shrank,” Benefield told The Center Square. “That is, this data is flat-out wrong.”

Benefield continued, “The first part of his analysis focuses on BLS data (using While this data is useful in other ways, it is not a good measure of year-to-year membership changes in government unions. The more accurate the data, the more of a decline you’ll see in overall union membership.”

Pointing to numbers obtained by the Commonwealth Foundation, Benefield said the six largest Pennsylvania government unions (excluding the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, which don’t report this data) lost a total of 26,319 fair share fee payers (fees that non-union workers were previously compelled to pay to the union), along with 14,362 union members since 2018, and $18.4 million in dues last year.

DiSalvo generally agreed with Benefield’s commentary.

“I think the issue here is with the BLS data, not with me,” DiSalvo said. “I only report it. I never said it was super accurate in general or for [Pennsylvania] in particular.”

The data DiSalvo used, however, is still relevant, he said.

“The reason to report the BLS data is that it is an official federal government source. It is often used by academic, think tank scholars, and journalists. While it has its downsides, it would be unwise to outright dismiss it or cast in too harsh a light,” DiSalvo said.

Without better reporting to the federal government, or detailed information from employer payroll records, tracking the rise or fall of public-sector unions gets tricky, he said.

AFSCME is an acronym for American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The high court’s ruling overturned the 1977 Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education decision.

Staff Reporter

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.