Whistling past the graveyard?
A recent article in Education Week notes that NEA members will be celebrating growth in the union's membership rolls at the union's annual shindig, opening later this week in Los Angeles. After last year's drop in "active teacher" membership figures - the first such drop in 28 years - the NEA looks to gain members this year on the strength of a new recruitment campaign. But a closer examination shows that the 2.8-million-strong union has less to celebrate than it claims. Recent mergers with local and state affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers brought new members to the group, but without raising total number of unionized teachers. Rates of annual membership growth have dropped to one percent. Ninety percent of schoolteachers in the U.S. are members of either the NEA or the AFT, and it appears that real recruitment - that is, the recruiting of non-union teachers - has hit a brick wall, with half of the NEA's 38,000 new members being drawn from the ranks of school support staff. The regions where NEA membership is weakest - mainly in the South - have traditionally resisted unionization. Recruitment efforts in these areas, though seriously beefed up as part of a major nationwide recruitment campaign, have lagged significantly. Most ominous, union-backed candidates have fared only moderately well in the last three election cycles despite an enormous get-out-the-vote effort and the expenditure of buckets of teachers' dues. Is the ride over? (And if you'd like the inside scoop, blow by blow, from the NEA convention, check out the excellent daily first-hand reports of Mike Antonucci, see here.)
"NEA grows more strategic about membership," by Bess Keller, Education Week, June 22, 2005