The Old Get Old and the Young Get Stronger

November 24, 2014

The Old Get Old and the Young Get Stronger. Last year I reported on some demographic information the National Education Association compiled about its delegates soon after the union’s annual convention. It revealed that the 7,000 delegates, who are NEA’s most active and devoted members, were on average about 51 years of age. Only 10 percent of them were younger than 35.

I recently obtained the same information for the 2014 convention, and learned that while the average age fell to 49, the percentage of sub-35-year-olds also fell, to 8 percent. This suggests that the lower average age was almost entirely due to the retirements of very old delegates.

Even with all the other problems teachers’ unions are having, the age of its activists by itself is a serious concern. Not only is the generation gap all professions face present, but the effects of an education and union generation gap go to the heart of NEA’s policies.

The majority of teachers enter the profession in their mid-20s, so we can infer that the average NEA delegate has 20 or more years of experience. Is it such a leap to think that their interests are more likely to lean towards seniority and pensions instead of starting salaries, training and advancement?

It goes further. I noted a quote in the Washington Post from an AFSCME local president who had this to say about his members:

If they were more active over the last 10 years, maybe we wouldn’t be in the situation we are now. Our employees have always taken for granted what we’ve got. And I don’t think they realize the lives that have been lost, and I don’t think they show enough respect for what those who went before us did to get us where we are.

He might even be right, but telling them how tough you had it and that they don’t show enough appreciation for their elders will lead only to eye-rolling. The “these kids today” attitude is just as common in teachers’ unions as it is in the rest of society.

A Governing magazine article from July addressed this issue, and the author was relatively optimistic about the labor movement’s chances of appealing to a younger demographic. But it is going to be very hard to do if that younger demographic is nowhere to be found in the unions’ representative bodies.

Could you successfully choose what kind of music or films a 20-something would like? Then why would you think you could choose what kind of workplace policies they would like?

Teachers’ unions can make great strides in asking them what they want and listening to the answers. I very much doubt, however, that they have the will to turn those answers into action. It would require sacrificing the interests of those in the room for those still outside the building.

The Millennials themselves can change the unions over the natural course of time, as they assume positions of power from the retired. But they might not hang around that long.

Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics November 18-24:

Have a Coke and a Smile. AFT’s slippery slope of politically incorrect soft drinks.

Split Decision in Staff Lawsuit Vs. Oregon Education Association. Union shows the way to meeting mandated staffing ratios – shut down offices.

Let’s Review. Corroboration.

Post-Election Union Analysis on the Left. We welcome all ideas, then discard them.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name. If you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em.

Quote of the Week. “There are downsides, no doubt, to being seen as the party of organized labor. Still, it brings plenty of benefits, and it’s an identity – and that’s something the Democratic Party is rapidly losing.” – Elias Isquith, Salon staff writer. (November 20 Salon)