Exclusive: California Teachers Union Numbers Show Declining Membership at 587 of 995 Affiliates Since 2019

Janus, COVID have hurt union ranks across the U.S., but perhaps most of all at the CTA. Eroding California membership could also impact the NEA


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

In the last five years, teachers unions have taken a double hit. The first was the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling in June 2018, which eliminated the practice of charging agency fees to nonmembers. The second was the COVID pandemic that shut down schools in March 2020.

The effects have been detrimental to teachers union membership across the country, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the ranks of the California Teachers Association.

That union’s roster reached its apex at the time of the Janus decision, with more than 326,000 active members working in the state’s public schools. It has been a slow downward slide ever since.

The first big blow was the loss of 19,000 members when the California Faculty Association seceded from the state union and the National Education Association.

The Janus decision did not lead to the mass exodus of members that its supporters had hoped for and unions had feared. CTA internal documents indicate that only 2,631 school employees have dropped their membership in the last four years.

The union hoped to mitigate further losses by successfully lobbying for legislation that requires school districts to allow unions to make a 30-minute membership pitch during new teacher orientations. It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of this measure. In the last 10 months, school districts have hired 3,700 more employees who are eligible to join, but the union has 1,727 fewer members.

Just as the union was coming to terms with the post-Janus world, COVID hit and schools shut down. The union once again won relief from the California legislature, as districts were forbidden to lay off teachers until July 2020.

Nonetheless, membership continued to dwindle to the present day. At the beginning of March 2020, the union had 304,509 members. Internal documents show that figure dropped to 293,444 as of Jan. 13, 2023, a loss of 11,065 members.

Comprehensive numbers for the union’s 995 local affiliates are of less recent vintage, but official as of Aug. 31, 2022. I have constructed a table based on those statistics, culled from internal union documents. I included the comparable membership figures for Aug. 31, 2019, and Aug. 31, 2018. The figure for United Teachers Los Angeles is a best estimate, due to the difficulty of reconciling the numbers of members affiliated with NEA and those affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers Local 1021.

Losses appear to be indiscriminate across all local sizes. Eight of the state union’s 10 largest locals lost members between 2019 and 2022, while overall, 587 locals lost members during that period.

The cure for the union’s ills, once again, lies with the state legislature. The union will work to ensure funding is made available for as much hiring as possible, so membership will grow even if the percentage of new teachers who join isn’t what it used to be.

The health of the California Teachers Association and other large state affiliates is critical to the overall health of the National Education Association. Their membership dues help subsidize the continued existence of sickly state affiliates in the South. If California losses continue, it will have a domino effect across the country.

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