Teaching Profession

Will the Largest Teachers’ Union Lose 10 Percent of Its Members?

By Madeline Will — May 22, 2018 3 min read
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The National Education Association plans to slash its budget by $50 million, projecting a two-year loss of 307,000 members due to what is widely anticipated to be an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, according to a new report.

The country’s largest teachers’ union is bracing for the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, which is likely to be delivered next month. At stake are the “agency” or “fair-share” fees that unions can charge to workers who choose not to join but are still represented in collective bargaining in 22 states.

Long-time union analyst Mike Antonucci obtained the new NEA budget documents from his sources and broke the story on the 74 Million. The budget will be publicly released in Minneapolis in July, during the NEA’s annual conference.

In an interview, Mary Kusler, the senior director of the NEA Center for Advocacy, cautioned that these numbers are part of a draft budget that still needs to be voted on by members. The union is being conservative with its estimations, she said, adding that the NEA has seen cyclical dips in membership before.

“We’re preparing for [the Janus] decision, and that’s nothing new,” she said. “What this budget reflects is a more strategic and practical approach about an overall plan where we’re right-sizing our organization. ... The untold story is that the state of our union is solid and getting stronger.”

Antonucci reports that the two-year budget will cut expenditures by $50 million, which is an estimated 13 percent reduction from this year. Last year, NEA cut about $1.5 million from its budget of $366 million. Then, the union had predicted losing about 20,000 full-time-equivalent active teachers and paraprofessionals.

Kusler declined to comment on what areas of the NEA’s work will be affected by the budget cut: “We’re finding inefficiencies in the system,” she said, adding that the NEA plans to refocus its resources into four areas: supporting early-career educators, promoting racial justice and equity in schools, providing professional supports for teachers, and increasing teacher voice in collective bargaining.

The NEA has about 88,000 agency-fee payers, but if the Supreme Court eliminates agency fees, the union also expects to lose other teachers who had joined the union simply because it didn’t cost much more than the fees they were already paying. NEA now has about 3 million members.

Antonucci reports that the proposed budget cuts won’t take effect until September. Still, he writes, NEA has already eliminated 41 staff positions through buyouts, early retirements, and attrition. (NEA employs more than 500 people at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.)

What else could the NEA’s Representative Assembly bring? Delegates will vote on several constitutional amendments, including one that would open NEA membership to “public education allies"—people who are not employed in schools but care about “advancing the cause of public education.” This amendment was submitted by the NEA board.

Kusler said it seemed like a good opportunity for the NEA to open its doors.

“We saw it in the DeVos nomination, we saw it with the walkouts—[there has] been a surge in allies and public support,” she said, adding that people were asking, “How can we help? How can we get involved?”

While this amendment could be an attempt to shore up membership, Antonucci writes that these allies could also be approached for political action committee contributions. Labor unions are only able to solicit PAC money from members, so Antonucci predicts the union will recruit “deep-pocketed liberals,” such as Matt Damon and Jonathan Soros, if this amendment passes.

Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten, the head of the other major teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, told Education Week that Janus will be a “bumpy ride.” She expects the advocates of the case to “try to get people to opt out of their unions” after the decision is announced, although she declined to provide the AFT’s estimates for their membership losses.

5/23: This post has been updated with a response from NEA.

Image via Getty

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.