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Exclusive: As Sacramento Educators Strike, Post-COVID Numbers Show Accelerated Membership Losses in California Teachers Association

Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) teachers and school staff rally at Rosemont High School. (Getty Images)

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive.

With the Minneapolis teacher walkout settled, the eyes of the education world turn to Sacramento, where teachers and support employees unions have been on strike since March 23.

The Sacramento City Teachers Association is the ninth-largest of the California Teachers Association’s 981 local affiliates. Its demand for increased hiring is meant to address more than school district staffing shortages. CTA locals all across California have been losing members for four years, and COVID only made things worse.

According to the union’s latest internal figures, the number of active members — those working in the state’s public schools — fell to 293,548, more than 35,000 fewer than the union’s high-water mark in 2018. Losses were felt in every region of the state and included all categories: K-12 teachers, education support employees and higher education faculty.

Some of the more recent losses can be explained by the effects of the COVID pandemic and school closures over the past two years. But the union’s membership losses went beyond school staffing declines.

As of Feb. 29, 2020, two weeks before the first school closures in California, membership stood at 304,509. The union also tracks non-members, eligible school employees who have decided not to join. In February 2020, more than 28,000 workers, or 8.5 percent of the total, fell into this category.

Almost two years later, the number of non-members grew to more than 34,000, or 10.4 percent. Put another way, there were 5,000 fewer employees available to recruit, but the union ended up with 11,000 fewer members. At least in California, the union member exodus exceeded that of the much talked-about teacher exodus.

Related to its overall membership concerns, the union reviewed the work of its charter school task force. This internal committee was formed to develop and propose regulations for charter schools, unionize charter school employees and help them negotiate their first contracts. The committee reported that it has aided in unionizing 3,200 employees at 94 charter schools since 2014.

One can question how much of an achievement this is. California has, at last count, 1,351 charter schools, meaning the unionized ones constitute just under 7 percent of the total.

Despite its membership losses, the union doesn’t seem to be suffering much financial pain. It expects more than $212 million in income this year, most of it from annual dues of $753 per member. Much of it goes into various political activism pots.

The union has $2.8 million in its statewide candidate political action committee, $3.8 million in its media fund, $4.8 million in its independent expenditures fund, $12.8 million in its advocacy fund and $26.1 million in its ballot initiative fund. It appears this last fund will sit quietly for another year, as signature-gathering has ceased for all the ballot initiatives the union was preparing to fight.

In total, that’s more than $50 million designated to influence both legislators and the public to adopt the union’s agenda or embrace its viewpoint. That money is at work in Sacramento even when teachers are not.

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