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What to Expect at the NEA Convention, Days After Supreme Court Blow

Lily-Eskelsen-Garcia-blog.jpg

Thousands of educators—and one Education Week reporter—will convene upon Minneapolis this weekend for the annual National Education Association convention.

The largest national teachers' union is in the middle of its 11-day meeting. On Monday, the four-day-long representative assembly begins, in which delegates vote on "new business items," or statements that direct the union to do something for a year. (My colleague Stephen Sawchuk has an informative explainer on what NBIs actually do.)  

But this year, the atmosphere of the convention might be more charged than in years past. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a heavy blow to teachers' unions with its ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31. The justices ruled to prohibit "agency" or "fair share" fees that unions had been charging to nonmembers in 22 states. Justices also ruled that workers must affirmatively opt into the union before dues can be taken out of their paycheck. 

The NEA convention is also happening just after a spring filled with teacher walkouts, demonstrations, and protests. And it's happening during a time when dozens of teachers across the country are running for political office

So there will be no shortage of things to discuss next week. Here are some of the conversations that readers can expect:

How will Janus affect the NEA? The NEA is projecting a nearly 339,000-member loss from 2017-18 to 2019-20. That's accompanied by a more than $50 million revenue loss. The proposed budget also includes a nearly $19-million reduction for staff salaries and benefits over two years. The NEA's budget priorities for the next two years will include recruiting new members to the union and protecting against adverse litigation and legislation that might be expected down the road. The union is expecting to have to defend itself against campaigns urging teachers to drop out of the union, as well as class-action lawsuits that are seeking to recover back fees in the wake of Janus. Eight state affiliates already have those lawsuits pending against them, with other unions facing threats. 

Should non-educators be allowed to join the NEA? A proposed constitutional amendment suggests opening NEA membership to "public education allies" while keeping the governance positions for educators. The amendment was submitted by the NEA board of directors, so it has some weight behind it. This proposal would help the NEA shore up its membership, and let the union approach these allies, who might have deep pockets, for political action committee contributions

Will member voice be more important now than ever? Labor experts have predicted that after Janus, teachers' unions will have to be more responsive to their membership in order to retain them. One proposed strategic objective for the NEA is to increase educator voice in state and local policy, and part of that could come from members being more engaged in their local affiliates' decisionmaking processes. Already, one proposed new business item calls for the NEA to conduct an online survey of members to see what they think about "current issues and tactics." 

Readers can stay tuned for coverage of the 2018 NEA convention on this blog (and on my Twitter account: @madeline_will).

Image of NEA President Lily Eskelsen García by J. David Ake/AP-File

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