Mixed Results From New NEA Membership Numbers Pre-Janus Ruling, Post 2018 Teacher Walkouts in W. Va., Okla. and Ariz.

Teachers, students, and supporters hold signs as they strike on March 2, 2018, in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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We have heard a lot over the past year about the #RedForEd movement and how the 2018 teacher walkouts have revitalized the nation’s teachers unions. This week, the National Education Association released its state-by-state membership numbers for the end of the 2017-18 school year. They show that the increase in activism did not provide the overall spike in membership the union hoped for.

These numbers are a snapshot of NEA’s membership after the mass protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and elsewhere, but before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which banned the public-sector-union practice of charging representation fees to non-members.

NEA had 2,626,216 active members working in the public school system in 2018 — an increase of 0.5 percent from the year before — plus an additional 372,000 retired and student members. The spread among state affiliates again demonstrates the advantage that agency fee laws provided to NEA.

In states where NEA represented fee payers, the union gained 28,180 members. In right-to-work states, it lost 13,991 members.

I culled the figures from the NEA Secretary-Treasurer/Independent Auditors 2019 Financial Reports and constructed a table, which provides both the total and active membership for each state affiliate. Along with the numbers are the one-year and five-year changes in those figures.

NEAMembership2017 18 (Text)

The teacher walkouts in Arizona and West Virginia did indeed provide a much-needed boost in membership to NEA affiliates there. Arizona saw an increase of 10.3 percent and West Virginia one of 3.8 percent.

Other states with mass protests did not fare so well. Membership in Oklahoma and Kentucky each fell by 1.7 percent, and in North Carolina by 6.8 percent.

Other numbers to note:

● One state, New York, accounted for 80 percent of NEA’s nationwide membership increase. New York is a merged affiliate of both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers. Each union counts each member as its own, but NEA receives only 8.4 percent of the national dues from New York members.

● Besides those mentioned above, four other affiliates saw membership increases of 3 percent or more. They were Florida, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

● On the flip side, 10 affiliates saw membership losses of 3 percent or more. They were Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

● Nevada was especially hard hit due to the loss of its largest local affiliate, the Clark County Education Association. The Nevada State Education Association saw its active membership decline by more than 48 percent.

What do these figures tell us about the future? Mostly that any trends in teacher union membership will be gradual and will vary from state to state. The lessons of Michigan and Wisconsin — two states where right-to-work laws were enacted well before the Janus ruling — show a steady decline over time that will likely be replicated in more states. The lessons of Arizona and West Virginia indicate that large-scale activism can significantly boost membership but is not a guarantee.

It is also clear that certain trends were present before Janus was ever thought of. Thirty-three NEA affiliates were smaller in 2018 than they were in 2013. The gap between the haves (New York, California, Washington, Oregon) and the have-nots is growing.

The end result is that policymakers in NEA’s strong states will see little or no change in union power, particularly in the short term. However, in its weakest states — like Mississippi and South Carolina — and in the states where its clout is fading fast — like Alabama and Wisconsin — NEA will increasingly have to deal with the sinking of its influence into irrelevance.

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