NEA has 99 problems and Janus is just one of them.


Public employee unions are waiting to hear the Supreme Court ruling on the Janus case. The Justices will make their opinion known probably in June.

The decision will impact the future of public employee unions as we know them. The specific issue before the court is the right of unions to charge an agency fee for the services they provide, regardless of whether the individual employee covered by the collective bargaining agreement chooses to join the union or not.

It is not about using dues money for political activity. The separation of political action money and agency fees has been the law for decades. No union member is forced to contribute to any union political action fund.

But the problem facing the National Education Association (I was a 30-year member and local president) and the American Federation of Teachers, the other national teacher union, runs deeper than Janus.

Over the past months a teacher revolt has swept across so-called red states. The state and national leadership of the unions have often either followed behind the rank-and-file organizations that have sprung up to fill the leadership vacuum or they have been a target of rank-and-file anger.

In Nevada, the state’s largest local has voted to disaffiliate completely from the NEA.

Out of the  11,000-member Clark County Education Association, only 99 teachers voted in favor of staying with NEA and the Nevada State Education Association.

The turnout for the disaffiliation vote was less than 8 percent of those eligible to cast a ballot.

Here in Chicago, a higher education local representing adjunct faculty at Columbia College, voted to disaffiliate from the IEA in 2015.

In Nevada the NEA has responded to their rejection by setting up a new affiliate. The chances of the old team that was just dumped winning the right to represent Clark County teachers again is slim as Nevada law requires them to sign up half the bargaining unit to change representation.

The fight going on in Nevada is more than about who will control the millions of dollars in dues money.

Rank-and-file teacher union members have quietly complained about do-nothing, undemocratic leadership practices for years.

Just days ago, Oklahoma Teachers United, a grassroots group  which exploded in membership while leading the state’s teacher walkouts, moved to impeach officers of the Oklahoma Education Association.

Larry Cagle, one of OTU’s leaders, said he supported a campaign to encourage teachers to resign from the NEA-affiliated union.

Moves to disaffiliate have sprung up elsewhere.

The break comes amid a surge of statewide teacher strikes and as unions across the country await a Supreme Court decision on whether or not unions could continue to charge dues to nonmembers.

What’s more, the National Education Association has suffered similar breaks from local unions in recent years, including  in Memphis, Tenn. and in Carmel, Ind.

Even in Illinois, a Fair Share state that allows agency fees, the IEA has become more and more an impotent shell of an organization since the state legalized collective bargaining over 30 years ago.

Cinda Klickna, the IEA’s past president complained to me several years ago of the union’s failure to have much influence in the state legislature.

“We used to be able to walk across the street from our office and into any legislator’s office. Those days are gone,” she told me in explaining their failure to protect retiree pension rights.

A court ruling in favor of Janus will be a problem for teachers and collective bargaining.

The red state teacher revolt demonstrates that it might just provide new opportunities for teachers in unions whose leadership has become calcified.



7 thoughts on “NEA has 99 problems and Janus is just one of them.

  1. DON’T FORGET: In Kentucky, Teacher Retirement Legal Fund (TRELF) was founded in early 2014 because NEA/KEA/JCTA members, concerned about union inaction regarding pension theft, were told by the Jefferson County Teacher Association (attorney Don Meade) to go form their own organization. We did! We have filed three lawsuits since then, and as vindication, recently KEA and the state Attorney General, Andy Beshear, FINALLY filed suit against Ky Governor Bevin’s pension “reform”. FOUR years after TRELF filed suit. Our teacher pension is currently funded at 32%, lowest in the U.S.


  2. Love your blog Fred. It should be noted, however, that the IFT/AFT is run differently than NEA. Where NEA tends to be a “top-down” decision-making political model, the IFT/AFT has a “bottom-up/grassroots” approach. As a local and council, we vote for our political endorsements and are very involved in local issues. In fact, the D214 Ed Association is in the first year of affiliation with IFT in large part because of this approach.

  3. There could have been one ginormous union (#s the likes,of which, legislators could NOT ignore) had the AFT & the NEA merged.
    But…no…egos ruled (& continue to rule) the day, & this is what you get–legislators ignoring smaller #s (“strength in #s”) & locals disaffiliating.
    The latter which will only strengthen the locals’ members, & good for them!
    (Love rwleck’s comment about the JCTA att’ny. advising them to “go form their own organization.” Reminds me of all the NO communication coming from the IEA’s former NON Communications Director Charlie McBarron (who once, on Fred’s blog, called me a liar). Love how the rank-&-file were all asked/surveyed about the 2016 Dem Primary, promising not to endorse HRC early then, did.
    W/o even asking us. Just as they did w/Obama. Thanks for Arne Duncan & Race to the Top, IEA/NEA!

  4. In Florida, which is a right-to-work state, teacher unions are nearly meaningless, especially on the Space Coast which is Brevard County. There is a general dislike of unions and union members, in particular teacher unions and teachers who are pro-union. It’s a Southern thing. Most of the teachers in Brevard County are registered Republicans. (Florida is a closed-primary state.) The county went strongly for Trump.)
    Because they see no future for unions or for their own careers as educators, they willingly go along with scripted online lessons and testing. “Just do what you are told” is a mantra spoken about teachers and about what students should do. Since there is no attempt at real union leadership, there is no belief in teaching as a career. “Serving the needs of students” is perceived as “job training” for students – online instruction has often become more preferable than human to human education and the advancement of critical thinking skills.
    Non-union adjunct teachers form the core of Eastern Florida State College, which is two miles from my home, and serve the largest department (that used to be called Engineering), Technology and Manufacturing. The half page newspaper and magazine ads are titled “Get Trained Today.”
    Temp teachers in temp jobs train students for jobs. Education? The teaching profession? Union leadership for professionals? Critical thinking skills that allow people to adapt and grow as job markets change? These are non-existent.
    Could decent unions with actual leaders help change and improve this situation? Brevard County schools from pre-school through college cannot know and will not know.
    The NEA in Brevard County, Florida collects dues. Period.

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