In Response to Janus, NEA Cuts Budget by $50 Million
With a projected loss of members in the hundreds of thousands, the nation’s largest public sector union is tightening their belt
As teachers got together this week in Minnesota for the annual meeting of the National Education Association (NEA), the country’s largest public-sector union, they met under much higher stakes than ever before. Around the country, teachers have been going on strike and taking part in activism that hasn’t been seen by public sector workers for decades. Yet at the same time, the union faces the possibility that it will have suffered the loss of members over the next few months following the Janus decision.
Thanks to Janus, public sector unions have to make the tough decisions. When strong union states like Wisconsin became Right to Work, the state teachers union lost 30% of their members. Preparing for a national loss of members and union dues, the NEA has decided to cut their budget for the next two years by $50 Million. According to the NEA, they have 88,000 agency fee payers nationwide and expect to lose up to 370,000 members over the next two years.
While some of these cuts come from smart spending, like holding more meetings through video chat instead of flying the staff member to the meeting, others will affect the membership in a larger way. Jim Testerman, the senior director at the NEA’s Center for Organizing, said that the union, through retirements, has reduced their staff by 40 people. While this will save millions in salaries and benefits, it also means that the NEA has 40 fewer people to respond to the needs of their locals and state affiliates. That will put more pressure on the state chapters to provide services to their locals, but these state chapters have also begun cutting back. In California, the California Teachers Association (CTA) cut its budget by $20 million in preparation for Janus.
While unions are tightening their belts and cutting staff, more people are needed than ever before to get out of the office and organize the members. Conservatives are latching on to a small part of Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion where he said “neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.” This idea of affirmative consent would mean that unions like NEA and AFSCME would need to re-sign all of their members to keep them as dues payers. While many unions feel that this interpretation is not the case, the NEA reports some school districts refusing to take out dues unless members affirm that they still want to be members. This is clearly the next legal battle that anti-union groups like the Right to Work Foundation will bring to the Supreme Court.
While the outlook for public sector unions may look bleak, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García also sees hope in the future. In her speech to the delegates, she spoke about how the Red for Ed movement has united teachers from around the country and given them a voice to fight for better wages, better teaching conditions, and better benefits. “You spoke the powerful truth that we are fierce fighters who will stand up for ourselves and for our students and we will be heard!” said Eskelsen Garcia.