Education Intelligence Agency

Public education research, analysis and investigations

NEA Membership Numbers Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet

Written By: Mike Antonucci   – May• 13•13

May 13, 2013

NEA Membership Numbers Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet. The National Education Association thinks it sees light at the end of its long tunnel, reporting losses of 38,000 members this year, which is a significant slowing from 2012. The economy has stabilized, if still weak, and it only makes sense that teacher layoffs would level off as well.

Before you get too excited, there are a number of problems unrelated to school district staffing that still exert a downward influence on teacher union membership. In fact, without a countervailing increase in the level of hiring, it is likely that NEA’s total membership will soon fall below 3 million – a level it hasn’t seen since the NYSUT merger in 2006.

The state unions acted quickly in Wisconsin and Michigan in the face of new collective bargaining laws. Many local affiliates were still under contract, or quickly finalized new contracts, which will allow them to hang on to their members for the time being. However, as time passes and those locals feel the effect of the new laws, their membership numbers will steadily continue to drop. As it is, the Wisconsin Education Association Council cut its dues by $27 in an effort to retain members.

Also, NEA’s current numbers do not yet account for the loss of its lone higher education state affiliate, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly. The 3,000 UHPA members won’t come off NEA rolls until September.

In the meantime, NEA engineered a campaign to get the UHPA board of directors to reverse its disaffiliation vote. The national union organized phone banks and volunteers in an effort to drum up opposition, which has largely fallen on deaf ears. This isn’t necessarily because there was so much support for disaffiliation, but because the average member really doesn’t care one way or the other.

The UHPA leadership cares, though, and it sent an e-mail memo lambasting NEA for interfering in its internal affairs:

On March 18, UHPA President Adrienne Valdez issued a letter to NEA President Dennis Van Roekel requesting that NEA stop direct communications with UHPA members. This request has not been honored. Members continue to receive phone calls and other communications from the National Education Association.

…NEA’s communications are designed to undermine the UHPA elected leadership and the By-laws of our union. The NEA direct communication with members also challenges UHPA’s role as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for the UH faculty through attacks on leaders that do not agree with them. NEA has even begun to circulate a petition in an attempt to rescind the Board’s vote to disaffiliate with the NEA.

…Unfortunately, the NEA tactics make this a battle of winning at all costs. In part this relates to the significant membership and dues loss suffered by NEA since 2010. When NEA President Van Roekel spoke to the UHPA Board in July 2012, he noted that between September 1, 2010 and September 1, 2012, the NEA was projecting to lose 150,000 members. Projections from NEA in 2012 cite an anticipated total loss of 308,000 members by 2014.

UHPA’s membership represents 1/1000 of NEA’s total membership and collectively contributes more than $350,000 in net dues to NEA. With NEA’s declining membership, even UHPA’s decision is a threat to NEA and its bottom line. However, NEA’s foremost concern may be UHPA’s influence on other higher education affiliates to consider independence as an option.

At such a critical time when UH faculty members should be focused on priorities that include legislative issues affecting UH funding and preparing for our new contract negotiations, it is unfortunate the NEA is creating a distraction and seems more concerned with self-preservation than the welfare of its own members.

NEA could learn from AFT that this sort of tactic rarely works out.

With its internal situation in turmoil, the union will increasingly look to external means – increased hiring and funding from state agencies and school districts – to restore its former glory. Expect major initiatives, especially in union-friendly states, centering around class-size reduction and rescinding layoffs, in an effort to bolster membership numbers.

Last Week’s Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics May 7-13:

* Boo-Hooey. Duncan and the AERA deserve each other.

* What the AFL-CIO Can Do for Veterans. From underpaid to overpaid in one fell swoop.

* NEA Names Sen. Patty Murray 2013 “Friend of Education.” Someone has to win.

* Who’s to Blame for Widmer’s Theft? You can follow the money from either end.

* Feature or Bug? When did self-promotion become a liability for union presidents?

Quote of the Week. “Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world. Once upon a time you saw people like this in every newsroom in the country. They often had chaotic personal lives and they died early of cirrhosis or a heart attack. But they were tough, angry SOBs and they produced great stories.” – columnist Brett Arends. (May 12 MarketWatch)

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