Are There Changes in Store for AFT?

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Mike Antonucci produces some interesting facts on the difference between the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association and how their demographics may affect their future.

AFT has affiliates in only 34 states. Only 21 have memberships larger than that of NEA’s Mississippi affiliate. Counting the AFT’s branch in the District of Columbia, a total of 22 affiliates are home to the overwhelming bulk of AFT members. Fifteen of those are in former agency fee states, making AFT a lot more vulnerable to the effects of Janus.

AFT has maintained membership growth because it has no presence in most of the states where NEA has lost members over the past 10 years. In fact, more than one-third of AFT’s membership works in one state, New York.

Six percent of AFT members are state and municipal government employees in fields unrelated to education. Seven percent are nurses and health professionals. Fifteen percent work in higher education.

But the Janus decision applies to all public sector employees.

That leaves 72 percent who work in K-12 public education. Since, on average, there is one education support employee for every teacher in the U.S. public school system, it is very likely that K-12 public school teachers are a minority in AFT. By contrast, about 70 percent of NEA members are certified K-12 public school teachers.

The composition of AFT’s membership is an important factor for the union’s future because reduced resources will force the union to prioritize its recruitment and retention efforts.

Fewer than half of its members pay the full dues amount. Union recruiters will have decide whether to concentrate on signing up large numbers of low-dues members to keep membership totals high, or a smaller number of full-dues members in order to keep revenues up.

A post-Janus NEA will be essentially the same union, only smaller. A post-Janus AFT might disappear from even more states. It might end up with a higher percentage of teachers, or lower. It might seek to expand into different professions, or cull some of the ones it currently represents.

All of that uncertainty leaves aside the question of AFT’s future relationship with NEA. In a world with shrinking membership, will there be renewed efforts at merger, or will competition revive the old NEA-AFT raiding wars?

There are a lot of questions without any answers. Most of us are looking at this new era in labor relations as one of how unions interact with members versus non-members. But organized labor’s fate may depend on how unions interact with each other.