Yesterday The Raleigh News and Observer ran an article titled, North Carolina teachers may go on strike for higher pay and Medicaid expansion.
Strike talk for public employees? There’s a topic certain to perk up the eyes and ears of every parent or policymaker. For the record, strikes by public employees are illegal in North Carolina. Teachers are public employees and the teachers in question are members of the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state affiliate of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the United States.
Evidently the law, hasn’t deterred NCAE leaders from broaching the subject with its members. The N&O article said the survey was being administered by NCAE’s Organize 2020, Racial and Social Justice Caucus. A quick click to the site produced no reference to a survey. However other sites clearly referenced the survey (see here and here). Will teachers strike and face penalties? Let’s face it, the law is one thing, finding a school board and district attorney who is willing to prosecute is another. How likely is it in small rural towns, many of which already have teacher shortages? You can bet that NCAE knows this.
So, the survey is NCAE’s way of putting its finger in the air and discerning which way the wind is blowing among its members – just as NEA members did in Arizona, Oklahoma, Ohio and West Virginia.
A lot of people think NCAE is flexing its muscles. A strike is an act to clearly pressure legislators to boost salaries and agree to their demands. However, let’s not forget that Gov. Cooper vetoed pay raises for teachers and additional funding for education. In defense of his actions Cooper said the increases were not enough and Republicans failed to compromise. Cooper is betting that teachers will hang with him and prefer no raise to the 3.8 percent which was included in the budget.
In the meantime, NCAE is continues to agitate for pay raises and show others it can still change the policy debate and bargain from a position of strength. It’s a perception that NCAE likes to cultivate but let’s look deeper. I’ve written on the continued declines in NCAE membership for years (see here , here and here) and NCAE membership continues to drop. North Carolina has experienced some of the largest declines of any affiliate in the country. Earlier this year veteran teacher union watcher, Mike Antonucci, reported that while total revenue among NEA affiliates is up 3.1 percent, almost half of state affiliates (22 states) had membership declines. North Carolina was one of those states. Membership in the NCAE, declined 6 percent in 2017-18 to 28,725 total members. The decline was the third largest in the country behind only Nevada (-44.1 percent) and Iowa ( -6.5 percent). As might be expected, Antonucci also reported that last year NCAE’s revenue declined. Total revenue was down to $5.7 million, down 1.1 percent from the previous year. North Carolina was one of sixteen such state affiliates to also experience a decline in total revenue.
Still what needs to be brought into this discussion is that NCAE’s declining membership and revenue is not a new story. It’s been going on for years. Antonucci’s numbers for 2019-10, show NCAE had a total membership of 44,970, down 6.3 percent from the previous year. Antonucci has published annual numbers on NEA state affiliate finances and membership for years and anyone who tracks the numbers can see the steady declines in NCAE membership and revenue. As recently as 2012-13, Antonucci reports NCAE had a total membership of 43,725 and revenue at $8.3 million. If we compare data for the most recent five-year period (2013-2018), NCAE revenue declined by 31 percent while membership was down 33 percent. Those are significant numbers that belie troubling trends.
In a February 2017 post, Antonucci identified North Carolina as one of NEA’s “shakiest states.” Antonucci writes:
North Carolina Association of Educators. The North Carolina Association of Educators lost 9.6 percent of its active members in 2015 and is only about half the size it was in 2010. It is now below the threshold for payroll deduction of dues set by state law, although enforcement of that provision seems to be a problem for the state.
NCAE ran a $690,000 deficit in 2015 and its employees claim they have not received a raise in eight years.
Yes, three years ago, but none of the trends have been reversed. NCAE continues to experience membership and revenue declines.
NCAE and other media continue to portray the organization as the voice of public-school teachers throughout North Carolina. But is it? Let’s look at the numbers. In 2017-18, North Carolina employed about 94,000 teachers. In that same year, North Carolina claims a total membership 28,725. We know that not all NCAE members are teachers. Some are professional or support staff. So how many teachers does NCAE represent? Let’s be conservative and assume between half and three quarters of all members are teachers. If we plug in the numbers, that would mean between 14,362 and 21,544 of all members are teachers. If there are 94,000 teachers in North Carolina, and we used the ranges just discussed, that would mean NCAE represents between 15 and 23 percent of all teachers in North Carolina.
When you look at those numbers, it’s difficult to accept the case that NCAE speaks for all public-school teachers in North Carolina.
Of course, NCAE has every right to lobby legislators. However, the media has succeeded in ignoring many of the realities just mentioned. In the meantime, local news outlets continue to put a microphone in front of teachers and ask them to talk about teacher pay and the like. Those are valid questions. But so is, Why are thousands of teachers leaving the NCAE? And, Why is no one asking the question? Those are questions that need to be asked by policymakers and parents alike, and certainly deserve to be part of the current discussion.