NEA’s Hotel California Affiliate Scheme

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Teacher union officials are all about the numbers ever since the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation-won Janus decision was handed down by the Supreme Court last June.  While these officials scoff at the prospect that the decision would cause a decline in membership, they cannot wish away the losses that come from locals that disaffiliate.

In order to compete as a “union” with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA) implemented a “unified dues structure,” forcing teachers to join the national, state and local affiliate automatically.  Recently 2 of their largest local affiliates have disaffiliated.  Mike Antonucci has the story in the74million.org.

But some unions, particularly the National Education Association, face another threat that has the potential of causing much more financial pain.

If losing fee payers and a percentage of members is troublesome, how much worse is the loss of an entire local affiliate?

In the past three years, two of the NEA’s largest locals left their state and national unions and became independent: the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association in Tennessee and the Clark County Education Association in Nevada. These two defections resulted in the NEA losing exclusive representation and 15,000 members

Apparently concerned that such secessions could occur more frequently in the future, the NEA Executive Committee recently drafted a bylaw amendment that would make it extremely difficult for locals to disaffiliate.

The proposed amendment would require a local to commission a neutral third party to conduct an all-member election by mail. The election would have to take place according to a timeline defined by the NEA. Disaffiliation would require a two-thirds majority of votes cast.

It’s important to note that the procedure for a group of education employees seeking to affiliate with the NEA requires no such vote, no such majority support, and no such timeline. Nor is a minimum number of members needed.

It would be foolish for independent-minded locals to underestimate the lengths to which state and national teachers unions will go to keep them in the fold. Both the NEA (in California and Maryland) and the American Federation of Teachers (in Puerto Rico, Colorado, Oregon, and Michigan) are fond of establishing trusteeships over rebellious locals, sometimes under the cover of darkness.

The bylaw amendment will have to be approved by the NEA Representative Assembly in July, so locals thinking about bolting will have to act fast in order to outrun the union’s fledgling Brezhnev Doctrine.