They say timing is everything in the news world, but I’m slightly baffled by the attention yesterday’s blog post, “NEA ‘Only’ Down 70,000 More Members,” received. Google and Twitter searches of “NEA 70,000” showed the news made the rounds rather quickly for a niche item about the teachers’ union.
I’m grateful for the attention, and the item was new information, but NEA’s general loss of members can’t really be considered news any longer. A table posted on the EIA web site for almost a year shows NEA lost just short of 180,000 active members from 2008 to 2011. And a full two weeks ago I posted a video of NEA president Dennis Van Roekel telling the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly board of directors “NEA, since September 1, 2010 to September 1, 2012, we will have lost about 150,000 head count of membership.”
Some of these losses were inevitable, regardless of the political climate. As the last of the Baby Boomers’ children graduated, the number of teachers dropped correspondingly. Also, the overhiring of public education employees in the 1990s and early 2000s was bound to end eventually. These new trends, coupled with layoffs associated with the recession, are responsible for a lot of the membership decline. However, losses due to changes in state labor law in places like Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan couldn’t have been predicted just a few short years ago.
So the crucial point is not that NEA is losing members after more than 20 years of uninterrupted growth, but that it has to do something about it. There aren’t many NEA activists with the experience of operating in a “down market,” so their attempts to work their way out of it will involve a lot of trial and error. They’re not going to curl up and die. They might do something bold or they might do something wacky. Either way, it might happen in your state and that’s why we need to keep an eye on what they do.