Teachers union membership drops for fourth year amid pandemic, controversial proposals

TND | By Kristina Watrobski | December 8, 2022

WASHINGTON (CITC) — Educators are leaving the largest labor union in the United States year after year, according to U.S. Department of Labor disclosure reports.

The National Education Association (NEA) is home to the majority of union-affiliated educators in the United States. Four years ago, it boasted more than 3,000,000 members. That number has plummeted each year since, now sitting at 2,871,908.

A reason for the significant drop is not immediately clear.

Some data argues teachers should be looking to remain in unions. An August paper published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says that as teachers’ stress levels rose due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the comfort of their unions were the best resource to alleviate them.

NEA attributes part of the membership loss to an overall teacher shortage. Vacancies began to outpace hires prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the ratio between the two first fell below 1.0 in 2017, according to NEA data.

While teachers have undoubtedly left the education field since the onset of the pandemic, it does not appear union membership drops can solely be attributed to that. Data suggests hiring is on the upswing once again. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced Monday that the “quits rate” for the field is not only declining, but has been for the majority of 2022.

Some departures may stem from recent actions taken by NEA, including apparent attempts to take political stances.

Earlier this year, NEA announced its latest agenda. The agenda featured proposed amendments to its constitution and 85 new rules awaiting debate. One proposed rule would allow NEA to “stand in defense of abortion and reproductive rights” and to encourage members to participate in related rallies, demonstrations and lobbying.

The NEA also expressed interest in discussing taking “all necessary steps to defeat and overturn” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s Parental Rights in Education law.

In the same agenda, NEA recommended using inclusive language in its contracts, such as “birthing parent and non-birthing parent” instead of “mother and father.” That proposal reportedly never made it to discussion.

The NEA also attempted to enforce a policy of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and masking in schools, but the proposal was dismissed.

However, other ideas were ultimately given the green light.

During its 2022 Representative Assembly, NEA adopted a resolution permitting it to “create fact sheets about the largest 25 organizations that are actively working to diminish a students’ right to honesty in education, freedom of sexual and gender identity and teacher autonomy.” The move, which will require funding in order for NEA to research organizations, has been widely criticized.

NEA has emphasized its commitment to addressing shortages, and says teachers unions across the United States are working to attract educators.

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