Teaching Profession

NEA Members, Budget Up; Workers Down

By Bess Keller — December 12, 2006 4 min read
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In its second year of detailed disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Education Association is reporting that it has more members, a larger budget, and fewer employees in Washington.

Membership in the year that ended in August totaled 2,767,696, up 36,550 from the previous year, for a gain of just over 1 percent. Slightly more than 2 million were working teachers, the most coveted category because they pay higher dues.

View the “Form LM-2 Labor Organization Annual Report” by going to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Organization Query Page. Click the “Union” radio button on the page, enter “000-342" in the file number box, and hit the submit button.

All told, the nation’s largest union spent some $344 million during the fiscal year, about $30 million more than in 2004-05, according to its disclosure report. The expenditures included pay and benefits for a Washington headquarters staff of about 635, down a bit from more than 650 last fiscal year.

Federal law calls for labor unions with receipts of more than $200,000 that represent any private-sector workers to file the reports, even if the vast majority of their members are public employees, such as public school teachers. Since a recent change in Department of Labor regulations, the unions have had to explain any tab over $5,000.

What’s Political?

The NEA spent many millions on grants to its 50 state affiliates for a myriad of purposes, including allocations for paying the salaries of administrators in state and local affiliates, conducting membership campaigns, and influencing legislators and the public on issues of importance to the organization.

“We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” said Michael McPherson, the NEA’s chief financial officer. “Almost a third of our budget goes directly into … affiliates.”

Often that means a redistribution of money to affiliates struggling to build numbers in so-called “right to work” states, where nonmembers pay no dues. But state affiliates fighting significant political battles are also the recipients.

Fiscal '05-06 Spending

Total: $344 million

Contributions, gifts, and grants, including those to state and local affiliates for union (Uniserv) directors: $73.8 million

Union administration, including meetings, elections, and leadership education: $64.4 million

General overhead: $62.4 million

Collective bargaining, contract administration, organizing: $50.4 million

Political activities and lobbying: $26.9 million

SOURCE: National Education Association LM-2 Disclosure Forms

For example, the Michigan Education Association received grants of more than $700,000 last fiscal year to promote an initiative for guaranteed educational funding on the state’s November ballot. The ballot question lost.

That amount was included in the $26.9 million the union reported spending on political activities and lobbying. Critics of the NEA have long contended that it grossly underreports its political expenditures, in part because the union sometimes represents such spending as that from its political action committee, made up of voluntary contributions from members and the only fund from which it makes gifts to candidates’ campaigns.

The figure reported to the Labor Department this year under the agency’s rules is more than five times the $4.6 million spent from the PAC in the last election cycle, and includes communications with members to urge them to vote or to inform them on a political matters.

Nonetheless, the political-activity numbers should probably be considered estimates on the low end if a broad definition of “political” is used.

For instance, the NEA reported that all 12 of its top elected officers spend just 5 percent of their time on political and lobbying activities, including President Reg Weaver and a member of the executive committee who led a recent task force on the union’s goals for the rewriting of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Eighty-five percent of their time was said to be spent in the category of “administration,” which includes union elections, regular meetings, and the administration of trusteeships.

Contributions Big and Little

Union officials maintained that the percentages were reasonably accurate, given that staff members do much of the work to develop the union’s positions.

Though the NEA claims nonpartisanship, its spending for political and social causes weigh heavily on the side of the Democratic Party and liberal concerns. Union watcher and critic Mike Antonucci winnowed the “contributions, gifts, and grants” category required by the Labor Department to remove the grants that paid affiliates for the salaries of administrators. What remained of the reported $73.8 million was $4.7 in grants or contributions to other organizations, according to Mr. Antonucci, who publishes an online newsletter.

The top expenditure was $1.3 million to the advocacy group Communities for Quality Education, which was founded and financed largely by the NEA to oppose the NCLB law.

Other recipients of amounts in excess of $200,000 included Americans United to Protect Social Security ($250,000); Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, a Michigan think tank that seeks to influence education debate in that state ($250,000); and the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank with a concern for working people ($208,474).

Numerous donations of $5,000 to $10,000 went to organizations advocating for minority groups such as the Asian American Justice Center, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and, and the National Council of LaRaza.

A few contributions seem not to fit the overall pattern, such as the Ripon Society, a liberal Republican group, which received $12,500, according to the disclosure form.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2006 edition of Education Week as NEA Members, Budget Up; Workers Down

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