Unions have been sounding the alarm since the June 27 U.S. Supreme Court Janus ruling that public employees can stop paying union dues while retaining many of the benefits from collective bargaining. An anti-union group is sounding its own alarm among New York's public employees.
New Choice NY, which is a subsidiary of a Pennsylvania group called Americans for Fair Treatment, has emailed hundreds of thousands of the state's public employees to let them know they can leave their union and still retain many union benefits.
Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke calls these "free riders." However, New Choice NY spokesperson Bob Bellafiore says unions created free riders.
"It's funny that the legislator would say that, because that right to collect benefits if you are not part of a union was a right that the unions insisted on having in state law," said Bellafiore. "So if there are so-called 'free riders,' it's because the unions created the situation in state law that allows them to exist."
It is unclear how many public employees in this state have already cut back their union dues payments to what are called "agency" fees, which are basically that worker's share of bargaining costs. However, Bellafiore has an estimate.
"We've seen data that suggests there may be as many as 200,000 state and local employees, state government, local government, public authorities, SUNY, the New York City Transit Authority and local school districts," Bellafiore said. "Maybe 200,000 public employees, all told, who have opted out of the union and are paying agency fees."
Those fees were supposed to end with the court decision. WBFO reached out to Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw's office, but it was not immediately able to say if the county payroll system had stopped deducting the agency fees.
Bellafiore said his group wants public employees to know their rights.
"(New Choice NY) formed three years ago and its goal is to educate public employees about their rights in the workplace," he said. "It's funded by fiscal conservatives from across the country."
Bellafiore says the emails were sent to employees work, using computer software to identify workers and their public emails.
Local union officials here have been fighting access of similar groups to personal employee information for public workers, like email addresses and other information. Unions have been aggressively persuading members to continue to be members and pay their dues.