NEA Affiliates in California and Wisconsin Approach Lean Years Differently.

Mike Antonucci:

Falling enrollment, budget cuts and layoff have led to corresponding declines in membership for most National Education Association state affiliates. Without compensatory action, fewer members mean less dues revenue – a situation these unions have not had to face in recent memory.
As the numbers show quite clearly, even lean times do not mean NEA’s affiliates will become destitute. There is an awful lot of cash flowing through union headquarters around the country. But union officers and representatives are quick to find ways to spend it, particularly on their own employees. Adjusting budgets downwards is not their strong suit.
NEA itself had to revise its budget to account for membership loss and a smaller-than-planned increase in dues. It also froze the pay of its executive officers for the 2011-12 school year.
Two NEA state affiliates – California and Wisconsin – have different troubles to face in different political environments, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they are applying different measures to their fiscal problems.
The California Teachers Association sets its dues level by a formula that involves the average teacher salary over the last three years. With layoffs occurring almost exclusively at the bottom of the salary scale, it actually has the effect of driving up the state’s average teacher salary, and thus the dues level. With fewer members, CTA will raise its dues $8 next fall, to $647. This will mitigate the money lost, but not cover it entirely.
WEAC announced the cancellation of its fall convention, citing the uncertainty of whether it will be allowed to bargain the time off for its members. However, holding these events each year is also a budgetary drain, one that other NEA state affiliates have been forced to face.
Despite the serious state of financial affairs, WEAC is allocating up to $2 million for lobbying, legal action and internal communications in order to turn the political tide. It has, and will continue to receive, monetary and manpower assistance from NEA and other affiliates, including California.
These early signs indicate that the likely outcome of the collective bargaining battles in statehouses across the country is financially weaker teachers’ unions – but only relatively. Overall, there may be fewer members and fewer staffers. The unions may require special assessments or higher dues increases just to restore former revenues. But $1.5 billion annually is still an awful lot of money. We may see it applied in concentrated form on the unions’ existential issues, not diffused among feel-good projects.