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Unions remain strong in NY despite Supreme Court ruling

Labor leaders and top government officials in New York warned that Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court case decided last June, was a direct attack on public-employee unions by conservatives who wanted to see their power diminished.

"A case before Washington's Supreme Court seeks to effectively end public labor unions," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in January 2018.

"Let’s call it what it is: an attack on the freedom of working men and women to have a voice in the workplace," state AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said three months before that.

The decision, however, hasn't left much of a dent so far in two of New York's largest public unions, federal labor filings show.

The New York State United Teachers union, which represents educators in classrooms and on college campuses, actually added 15,097 dues-paying members in its 2018 fiscal year, upping its active membership to 426,396, or a 4 percent increase.

The Civil Service Employees Association, a union of blue-collar state and municipal workers, also saw a slight bump to 230,354 dues-paying members in its 2018 fiscal year, up 4,294 members from the prior year.

The membership increase wasn't enough to completely wipe out the immediate impact of the Janus decision, which suddenly freed about 35,000 NYSUT and CSEA non-members from paying "agency fees" to the unions to defray their collective bargaining costs.

But the bump does suggest the unions were able to largely retain their membership and convince some non-members and new hires to join, defying predictions from some that the decision would lead union members to defect en masse.

And it suggests a multi-year, door-knocking effort by unions to maintain their numbers seems to have paid off in the short term, aided in part by laws approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers that made it harder for workers to drop their union membership.

New York is the most unionized state in the continental U.S.

"I think any labor leader that’s being honest really felt there would be a drop," CSEA president Danny Donohue said.

"But I was pleasantly shocked that the work we had done the years before paid off. Our members were not about to give up their membership."

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