A total of 44 NEA state affiliates lost members since 2008-09, including 22 with double-digit percentage losses
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Recent union membership statistics spell trouble for the National Education Association.
Overall NEA membership was about 2.7 million in 2011-12, which represented a loss of about 6.9 percent since 2008-09, according to media reports.
But union finances will only take a moderate hit, since NEA leaders decided to raise individual members dues by $3 per year to make up for the loss in revenue.
Reasons given for the decline include teacher layoffs throughout the nation and new laws that allow teachers to walk away from union membership more easily in some states.
Dissatisfaction among members with NEA service, and the union’s increasing participation in Democratic Party politics are common reasons for members to resign.
The scope of the membership loss is easiest to appreciate at the state level.
The membership totals of active and inactive members for each state NEA affiliate were recently compiled by Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency.
Active members are employed teachers, professionals and education support workers. Total membership numbers includes retirees, students, substitutes and all others.
The data shows that from 2009 through 2012, 44 state affiliates lost active members, with 22 experiencing losses of double digit percentages.
The state affiliates that faced the biggest drop in numbers as measured by percentage were Arizona, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
Only six affiliates had more active members in 2012 than in 2009.
Arizona and Wisconsin – A closer Look
The active membership number in Arizona decreased by a whopping 43.1 percent since 2008-09. The total membership for Arizona has fallen by approximately 30 percent since 2010 – 2011, leaving the state union a mere shadow of its former self.
The decline is so great that the Arizona Education Association’s income fell from $7.5 million to $5.4 million in a single year, according to the Arizona Daily. The union is only budgeting for $5.3 million in dues revenue over the next year, the news report said.
One of the largest school districts in the state, Tucson Unified, now has so few teachers in their local union that the district is not legally obligated to participate in collective bargaining, although it continues to voluntarily do so.
“People only go out of their way to pay for things that are valuable to them. Given the ineffectiveness of the way AEA has behaved, it is no surprise that members have become former members. Wrong-headed decision making has left rank and file members out in the cold,” an unidentified union member told the Daily.
Other former members say that the significant decline can be attributed to the AEA becoming fixated on politics. This is further emphasized through their allegiance to the Democratic Party, with a focus on helping Democrats get elected.
As the Arizona Daily explained it, “As the union has become more focused on electing Democratic candidates, it has done little or nothing to improve either salaries or working conditions for teachers in the classroom. Many teachers say that the AEA’s allegiance to the Democratic Party reflects neither their politics nor their priorities.”
In Wisconsin, the state’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, has seen its membership numbers decline by 21.2 percent since 2008-09. Total membership has also fallen by a rate of 16.4 percent.
The decline has been so great, that Wisconsin’s two largest teachers unions, WEAC and the American Federation of Teachers – Wisconsin, have contemplated a merger to combine and maximize what’s left of teachers union resources in the state.
And as a result of the drastic membership decline, WEAC has been forced to cut at least 40 percent of its staff.
The loss in WEAC membership can be traced to the 2011 adoption of Act 10, a sweeping new law that drastically limited collective bargaining privileges for public sector unions. Teachers are no longer forced to be union members as a condition of employment.
But Act 10 did not force any WEAC members to walk away from their union. It simply unlocked the door and gave them the choice. Thousands of members turned the knob and walked away on their own.
Big drops in other states
Other states recording big losses in NEA membership include North Carolina (25.5 percent), Idaho (17.7 percent), South Carolina (15.5 percent), Oklahoma (14.5 percent), Tennessee (14.4 percent), West Virginia (13.7 percent), Georgia (13.6 percent), Arkansas (12.9 percent), Indiana (12.9 percent), and South Dakota (12.1 percent).
In Idaho, the membership drop coincided with a long fight between state and teachers union officials over a series of education reforms, including one that clipped collective bargaining. Voters eventually overturned the reforms, but the war clearly had an effect on union membership.
Discontent among union members is not limited to those states with big membership losses.
Hawaii, for instance, only lost 2.2 percent of its membership between 2008 and 2012, but there was plenty of unhappiness among some members.
The 3,000 members of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly recently decided to leave the NEA and become independent.
The split was reportedly a result of constant differences over money, support, and communications.
“The NEA does not provide UHPA with any information, support, assistance, access to elected officials, benefits, or programs that the organization is not able to provide itself either at the same, or less, cost to UHPA,” wrote one disgruntled former member.
By Trevor TenBrink at EAGnews.org