The National Education Association may soon find itself in a world where it has to recruit and enlist every one of its new members. It does not seem well-suited to the task, and a look at its recent history reveals that even with the added boost of agency fee laws, its active membership numbers are lower than they were 20 years ago, once mergers are taken into account.
1997 was the last year in which there were no merged NEA/AFT state affiliates. NEA total membership was 2,376,140. The union’s most recent membership numbers total 2,963,540 – a gain of 587,400.
But most of that gain was simply due to adding AFT members to the rolls. In essence, their national dues continued to flow to AFT, and the dues of any new members post-merger were split 50-50 between NEA and AFT. I’ve reviewed the one-year “gains” of NEA’s five state affiliates immediately after merger was consummated…
Florida – 53,045
Minnesota – 24,873
Montana – 2,462
North Dakota – 1,538
New York – 350,588
…which total 432,506 members, but I give NEA credit for all new members – not half – since those mergers.
This still reduces NEA’s total membership gain since 1997 to 154,894. Well, a gain’s a gain, right?
Except total membership numbers include retirees and students – folks who don’t work in the public school system, receive no direct services, and pay a nominal amount in dues. Since 1997, their numbers increased by 162,957.
That leaves NEA with 8,063 fewer active members of its own than it had before AFT joined the ranks.
Since there are about 500,000 more public school teachers than there were 20 years ago, it’s clear that NEA has been dwindling gradually since the Clinton Administration. To think the union can turn things around in the current political climate is irrational optimism on a grand scale.