Green Room

Teachers Union: We’re Disconnected From Our Members

posted at 7:58 pm on January 21, 2014 by

In the wake of persistent membership losses, the National Education Association began a review of its organizational structure in an effort to improve efficiency and cut costs. Part of the project included a survey of NEA’s board of directors, state affiliate officers, Representative Assembly delegates and rank-and-file members.

The survey response rate itself suggested a problem. Thirty-eight percent of those holding an elected position responded, but only 10 percent of the rank-and-file did so. Since part of the survey sought to gauge member involvement, NEA was not off to a roaring start.

Each answer was analyzed in aggregate as well as within the governance level to which each respondent belonged. The first consensus was “NEA’s governance structure is too large and cumbersome to be effective.” A number of respondents referred to the union as “top-heavy” and disconnected from rank-and-file members. Even within the top levels of the organization, some leaders expressed a desire to remove levels of governance, or reduce the size of representative bodies.

Few members of each group said that the work of any level of the union’s governance structure was “relevant to their work as an educator.” Coupled with that was a desire for NEA to focus more on education issues and less on everything else. Even when education was the main topic, many at every level felt that the annual Representative Assembly (RA) and the board meetings did not spend enough time on business and spent too much time on ceremony.

The results of the governance review might result in less frequent RAs, or a smaller board of directors, or any number of other internal structural changes, but NEA’s greatest challenge is how (or whether) it deals with its relative irrelevance to the daily lives of its members.

To illustrate, the union asked the rank-and-file members whether they had contact with a union representative in the past year. Three-quarters had met at least once with a local building rep and 60 percent had contact with a local affiliate board member. But very few members had any contact whatsoever from a union rep above the local level.

More than 60 percent had zero contact with the state affiliate board, more than 70 percent had zero contact with an RA delegate, and more than 80 percent had zero contact with a member of the NEA board of directors.

The middle statistic is the most significant. There are anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 delegates that attend the annual convention, and boast about being “the world’s largest democratic deliberative body.” In practical terms, the RA cannot be very democratic or deliberative if it never hears from three-quarters of its constituents.

But it is difficult to generate outrage on behalf of the rank-and-file, since they seem to be perfectly content – especially the younger members – with their lack of contact with NEA at any level. This is causing much consternation at NEA, but not much among young teachers.

The most involved NEA activists are much older than the rank-and-file members. When asked to explain why so few young members attend the RA, state affiliate leaders had remarkably similar answers:

Alaska: “Many younger members don’t know about RA, and don’t understand the association.”

Arizona: “They are often unaware of the RA or NEA as parent group, and they are not sought out to run/attend.”

California: “Some members do not know what NEA does and some don’t even know that they are NEA members!”

Colorado: “Most of our members including those under 35 do not have any idea that RA exists let alone how to be elected as a delegate.”

Montana: “Awareness about the NEA RA amongst younger members is low.”

New York: “[Little] knowledge of what the RA does/why it matters.”

In addition to these reasons, many affiliates noted that many older delegates go every year and don’t step aside for others to take their place – or, to be more accurate, to allow their funding to attend the RA to go to someone else. One state affiliate stated that the younger members “have little name recognition and are not likely to be elected if they run.”

Both supporters and opponents of the teachers’ unions should learn from this. Ordinary teachers and rank-and-file members should not be criticized for the actions of their union, nor should they be expected to defend those actions. Chances are they haven’t a clue what the union above the local level is up to. At the same time, the unions can’t use ordinary teachers and rank-and-file members as a shield against criticism of the union’s actions. Very little of NEA’s agenda was created by popular demand, or even created with popular knowledge.

What comes out of NEA headquarters is owned by the people inside that building. We should all keep that in mind when determining how to respond.

Recently in the Green Room:

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Thirty-eight percent of those holding an elected position responded

That, in some ways, is the most shocking statement of all in this article. The people who are elected to represent union members can’t be bothered to respond to a union survey about involvement?

It’s really not surprising that only ten percent of the rank-and-file responded, but one would expect the leadership to be a little more engaged.

Horologium on January 21, 2014 at 8:37 PM

I’d offer that the best response would a National Right-To-Work Law.

TKindred on January 21, 2014 at 8:40 PM

What comes out of NEA headquarters is owned by the people inside that building. We should all keep that in mind when determining how to respond.

Maybe…

This is along the same lines of “moderate muslims can’t be blamed for the action of radical jihadists.” Yes, but you rarely hear of moderate muslims condemning those actions either. Until rank-and-file educators start speaking out about the group supposedly acting out on their behalf, then those teachers will be “guilty by association.”

I also have difficulty with any teacher that would be so unaware as to not know their local or state NEA was siphoning money out of their paycheck.

Teachers are professional. The NEA purports to be their representative, professional association. If they don’t like that, then they need to officially, and perhaps forcefully, severe that relationship.

Ace ODale on January 21, 2014 at 8:44 PM

Teachers Union: We’re Disconnected From Our Members

…except the child molesters!

KOOLAID2 on January 21, 2014 at 9:12 PM

Don’t worry,they’ll still collect your dues.

KMC1 on January 21, 2014 at 9:30 PM

The beast is weakened….kill it now!

Mimzey on January 21, 2014 at 9:31 PM

Who gives a crap about your members? What about the children who’s lives you are destroying?

BDavis on January 21, 2014 at 9:58 PM

If various state laws didn’t require mandatory paycheck deductions for union dues or association fees, the membership in both the NEA and AFT would dry up as fast as it did in WI?
They are two dinosaurs that symbolize the walking-dead.

Another Drew on January 21, 2014 at 10:02 PM

Shouldn’t that be:

“We’re on paid leave from our members.”

viking01 on January 21, 2014 at 11:36 PM

California: “Some members do not know what NEA does and some don’t even know that they are NEA members!”

This is exactly what the unions want. The workers have no say, no decision, they are legally mandated to be part of the union and likewise their dues are legally mandated and taken before they even see their pay check.

It’s the Marxist way!

RJL on January 21, 2014 at 11:47 PM

I am a member of the NEA for two reasons. One is the professional insurance that protects me from lawsuits that I cannot find anywhere else. The other is my local is the group that negotiates my contract. If I could be a member of the local unit and not the state or national group, I would.

duggersd on January 22, 2014 at 6:07 AM

Ordinary teachers and rank-and-file members should not be criticized for the actions of their union, nor should they be expected to defend those actions.

I have no problem with teachers or workers in general, and I have always made that clear. My issue is with the union themselves. I once mention this and someone said that the workers and union is one and the same, I told that person how they should pound sand.

BigGator5 on January 22, 2014 at 8:33 AM

California: “Some members do not know what NEA does and some don’t even know that they are NEA members!”

This is exactly what the unions want. The workers have no say, no decision, they are legally mandated to be part of the union and likewise their dues are legally mandated and taken before they even see their pay check.

It’s the Marxist way!

RJL on January 21, 2014 at 11:47 PM

Actually, it’s the way of slavery. No wonder Democrats endorse mandatory membership and pay seizure.

dominigan on January 22, 2014 at 9:03 AM

They should be disconnected from life support.

Ward Cleaver on January 22, 2014 at 9:07 AM

In addition to these reasons, many affiliates noted that many older delegates go every year and don’t step aside for others to take their place – or, to be more accurate, to allow their funding to attend the RA to go to someone else. One state affiliate stated that the younger members “have little name recognition and are not likely to be elected if they run.”

They don’t want to give up those cool trips (paid for at our expense).

Ward Cleaver on January 22, 2014 at 9:09 AM

Union leaders are able to sympathize with the working class in order to not become part of the working class.

DAT60A3 on January 22, 2014 at 9:18 AM

Considering the girth of most the union bosses I’d say they’ve never been disconnected from the buffet table.

Bishop on January 22, 2014 at 10:25 AM

We must END ALL public sector labor unions as they are now working in OPPOSITION to the people. Which is exactly what FDR predicted in the 1930′s.

Freddy on January 22, 2014 at 2:50 PM

I am a member of the NEA for two reasons. One is the professional insurance that protects me from lawsuits that I cannot find anywhere else. The other is my local is the group that negotiates my contract. If I could be a member of the local unit and not the state or national group, I would.

duggersd on January 22, 2014 at 6:07 AM

Similar story for my mother-in-law.

She joined so she’d have union backing in case of a lawsuit. Her politics are extremely conservative and she doesn’t like what the NEA advocates for on the national level, but, with people being so quick to file law suits these days, she didn’t want to risk it.

On a (somewhat) related note, my aunt was recently fired from her position as a French teacher at a charter elementary school in the inner city. The reason? She had a ‘lack of sensitivity for black culture’ which was their PC way of firing her for expecting her kids to speak either standard English or French in her classroom. Apparently 1 parent (and that’s all it took) didn’t like that her child kept getting corrected and filed a complaint. As much as I dislike so many stories I’ve heard about the teacher’s unions, I did wish my aunt had some sort of protection against the ridiculousness of being fired as a teacher for teaching her kids.

JadeNYU on January 22, 2014 at 9:05 PM

JadeNYU on January 22, 2014 at 9:05 PM

My father was an unwilling member of the NEA for decades. His experience was the opposite of your aunt’s situation. He felt the ONLY thing they did was defend incompetent teachers. He most resented the protection of incompetent school management; however, because he felt their failure to back up teachers on maintaining discipline was the largest cause of student non-performance. Naturally, he felt the NEA was totally absent on that issue; even though it should have been seen as a labor versus management issue that the Union should have been in the forefront on.

KW64 on January 23, 2014 at 10:26 AM