A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

From the Vault: May 13, 2002

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 15•16

Are the Fat Years Over for NEA and AFT? It used to be relatively easy for EIA to obtain accurate, up-to-date membership numbers for NEA and its state affiliates, but recently it has become a lot more difficult. Perhaps it is coincidental that the numbers are becoming harder and harder to find just as the news becomes less and less cheerful.

The tremors are small: lots of talk about needing inroads with Generation X teachers… financial problems here… possible layoffs there. In the past, membership problems were localized in the chronic, hard-to-organize states that had competing organizations. Today, the sounds are more widespread. NEA has grown every year since the mid-1980s, but for the first time the end of the boom may be in sight. The union experienced an increase of some 37,000 members this year — about half of what it achieved in 2000-2001. More alarming if you’re an NEA official is the fact that 20 state affiliates had a decrease in membership last year — even as the number of potential members nationwide continues to grow at a fairly steady 2 percent annual clip.

EIA cannot yet identify which state affiliates are growing and which are not, though it seems safe to assume that the large states — California, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, et al. — continue to enjoy solid growth, while perennial weak sisters are now having serious problems. Activities to reverse the trend are already underway. The NEA Board of Directors granted $175,000 to the Mississippi Association of Educators for additional organizing. The North Carolina Association of Educators is laying the groundwork for an effort in support of collective bargaining in the state. North Carolina law currently bans collective bargaining by teachers.

Accurate AFT numbers are even harder to amass, because more of its members are not K-12 teachers. Nevertheless, the same tremors are coming from AFT. The AFT Executive Council’s organizing committee met to discuss ways to get younger members more involved and active in the union. EIA estimates that about 70 percent of teachers are NEA and/or AFT members. Public school teaching may be the most highly unionized sector of the American workforce (the private sector is only 9 percent unionized). Is something about to give?


Off to the Rebel Challenge

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 14•16

A short break as I head down to Disneyland to run in the Star Wars Rebel Challenge – a 10k on Saturday and a half-marathon on Sunday.

In the meantime we’ll run vault stories tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday, and return with new material next Wednesday.


One Voice?

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 13•16

Collective bargaining offers professionals the advantage of being able to speak with one voice.

This is an excellent sentiment if you happen to agree with what that one voice is saying, but it is when you disagree that it leads to problems – to the point where the U.S. Supreme Court has to work them out.

The unions say they were democratically installed – albeit by an electorate 40 years ago, in many cases – and the majority voice should prevail. That is the American way.

But recent events in three major American cities illustrate that teachers’ unions aren’t so enamored of that one voice supported by the majority when it doesn’t speak the words they want to hear.

* The Detroit Federation of Teachers ousted president Steve Conn from office and from the union. He had majority support of the members who voted, and now he’s running around the city organizing sick-outs. AFT national headquarters took control of its Detroit local, and now they are running around the city simultaneously distancing themselves from the sick-outs and using them to regain support for the union.

Meanwhile, there is another group – Detroit Teachers Fight Back – that describes itself as “a union within a union” and says it is not affiliated with Conn or his supporters. This group is organizing its own rallies and – it seems – its own sick-outs.

* The Nevada Employee Management Relations Board certified the election that made Teamsters Local 14 the exclusive representative of education support employees in Clark County, which includes the city of Las Vegas. The incumbent NEA-affiliated Education Support Employees Association (ESEA) could muster only 970 votes in an 11,000-worker bargaining unit, yet the board allowed 30 days to challenge the certification in court, which ESEA is likely to do.

There have been rumors that the Teamsters would follow up with an attempt to organize the teachers in Las Vegas, currently represented by the NEA-affiliated Clark County Education Association (CCEA), but that would be a steep climb. On the other hand, NEA’s backup plan has included splitting the ESEA bargaining unit and incorporating school-site employees like paraeducators and secretaries into CCEA and letting the bus drivers, custodians, and off-site personnel go to the Teamsters. This would run contrary to the union’s usual insistence that school support employees not be separated by job title.

* The newly independent Memphis Shelby County Education Association (MSCEA) filed suit against the school district in an effort to keep it from deducting dues out of teachers’ paychecks for the now-rival Tennessee Education Association and NEA. It is MSCEA’s position that when it disaffiliated, all payments to TEA and NEA should have stopped. It is TEA’s position that Memphis teachers joined all three levels of the organization and the new status at one level does not affect membership in the other levels.

That’s a defensible position as a court argument, but it is NEA’s rule that you have to join at all levels to be a member (called the “unified dues” structure). Prospective members are not given the option of choosing among the three levels. The dispute will be hashed out in court. In the meantime the school district is sensibly collecting TEA and NEA dues, but holding them in escrow until the wishes of each individual teacher are known. According to MSCEA’s attorney, “They don’t have one voluntary dues form signed” by an employee approving money to go to TEA.

Being able to speak with one voice may be an advantage. It should not be confused with believing there is only one voice.


Justice Sotomayor’s Ingenious Solution to the Agency Fee Problem

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 12•16

I spent most of yesterday answering questions and reading analysis about oral arguments in the Friedrichs case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Everyone seems to be enjoying reading the tea leaves, but we’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, it is only prudent for the unions to continue to prepare for the worst.

Almost all of the commentary I read focused on the line of questioning – often hostile – by the conservative Justices towards attorneys for the union respondents. I can’t fathom how everyone overlooked this fascinating proposition by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

We’ve already permitted subsidization of bar associations, of government programs. We’ve permitted assessments on a lot of different levels, so why can’t the government, as employer, create a State entity? Because this union under California law is a State entity.

I don’t know what went through the mind of Friedrichs attorney Michael A. Carvin upon hearing this, but he responded in the only sensible way.

“No,” he said.

Justice Sotomayor then read from the respondents’ brief of the California Attorney General, which cited the Perry case.

“When recognized as the exclusive bargaining representative, a union assumes an official position in the operational structure of a school.” So it seems to me that ­­– and California tells the union what topics it can negotiate on, it requires them to do training, and in the end it accepts their recommendations with respect to the issues of employment at its own will, meaning the State is creating the union as part of the employment training and other responsibilities.

The discussion then veered off into the weeds of whether the teachers’ union is a creation of the State, which I’m sure must have puzzled the union members and officers in the audience. Justice Sotomayor eventually returned to the debate. She asked Carvin whether, without the benefit of agency fees, the union could claim it could not financially fulfill the duties of exclusive representative and ask the school district to pay those expenses.

Carvin then asked if she meant could the government subsidize the union’s collective bargaining efforts. “Mm­-hmm,” she replied.

MR. CARVIN: I think they might be able to, but of course no State—

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: All right. So why can’t they assess ­­ — why can’t they assess all of their employees a tax for that contribution?

Who could have guessed that the way out of the agency fee mess was for school districts to form company unions? And then charge teachers for the privilege?

Carvin noted this would be a violation of the National Labor Relations Act and the discussion moved on. It apparently stuck in the mind of Justice Samuel Alito, however. Later on, when California Solicitor General Edward C. Dumont was beginning to present his case, Justice Alito interrupted him:

JUSTICE ALITO: Before you get into that, could I just ask you a preliminary question that came up earlier in the argument? Do you think that the California Teachers Association is an agency of the State of California?

MR. DUMONT: No. I think a — ­­ a — ­­ a union that becomes an exclusive representative, under the Perry case, has an official place in the functioning of the school district. But it is not ­­– it does not become an organ of the State.

Some of us here in California have often worried that CTA was a de facto part of the government. Apparently Justice Sotomayor thought it was de jure.


Financial Status of All NEA State Affiliates

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 11•16

Click here to read.



Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 08•16

“Educators are encouraged to see the Governor use his proposed state budget and revenues generated by Proposition 30 to continue paying back schools from the years of devastating cuts—especially those serving our most at-risk students.” – Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, January 7, 2016.

Here are those devastating cuts, presented in graphic form by EdSource using California Department of Finance data, along with projections for this fiscal year.


NEA Alaska’s Finances

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jan• 07•16

NEA Alaska’s membership numbers remain relatively stable, and its financial status appears solid. Here are the particulars:

Total membership – 12,912, down 0.7%

Total revenue – $7.7 million (84% came from member dues), up 2.7%

Surplus – $839,000

Net assets – $9.5 million

Total staff – 28

Staff salaries and benefits – $4.2 million

Highest paid employee – Ron Fuhrer, president, $152,846 base salary

Highest paid contractor –Landye Bennett Blumstein LLP, $158,000