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NEA Projects Member Losses. A Supreme Court Ruling Could Worsen Them

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By guest blogger Stephen Sawchuk

The National Education Association is projecting a significant membership dip over its 2017-18 budget year. And that may be only the beginning.

The figures were announced July 1 at the union's open hearing on its budget, which the union modified for the financial year. 

The NEA's Secretary Treasurer Princess Moss called the modified budget "conservative" given the current political climate. The union anticipates legislation in the statehouses that would, for example, strip collective bargaining rights or prevent union dues from being automatically deducted from teachers' paychecks, and as a result projects losing 20,000 full-time-equivalent active teachers and paraprofessionals.

(Remember, FTEs are composed of added-up part-time teachers, so the number of actual people affected would be higher.)

The NEA's proposed budget will drop by about a million and a half, to $366 million.

Importantly, that budget does not reflect potential loss of revenue from the union's agency-fee payers due to the looming AFSCME v. Janus case, which seeks to overturn the constitutionality of agency fees. (The court should decide by September whether it will hear Janus.)

States like California permit unions to charge these fees of nonmembers for the cost of negotiating salaries and benefits that apply to all workers. According to its labor filings, the NEA has about 87,000 fee-payers. 

It's not just losing fee-payers that's the problem: Other teachers who joined the union merely because it didn't cost much more then paying the fees might decide to check out.

The NEA and other unions narrowly avoided losing the fees in 2016, after the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 in a ruling on a prior case challenging the agency fees. Now, the new Supreme Court judge, Neil Gorsuch, will likely cast the deciding vote, and he has already tilted the high court rightward.

The NEA at this point isn't even pretending that it might avoid such a blow. "We know we'll be facing things like the loss of agency fees," Moss said.

It does seem a little strange that the NEA is projecting a loss when last year it had a 34,000 member increase. It's possible that this conservative budget is the NEA's attempt to begin building up some reserves in light of Janus. That's harder to do than you'd think, because much of dues revenue gets put into formulas to support things like ballot initiatives, the UniServ program (which helps deal with local member services), and grant programs.

In any case, next year's budget will be the one to watch, since it will have to reflect the agency-fee situation—and presumably make some hard decisions about where to cut. 

NEA delegates will vote on whether to approve the budget on July 5.

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