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NEA bars exit to local unions who want to leave

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The NEA’s annual representative assembly just concluded, and for teachers who like their local unions, the news isn’t good. Delegates passed Bylaw Amendments 5 and 6, which impose roadblocks and penalties on local member unions who want to leave the NEA and just be independent organizations. 

The NEA, whose annual budget is over $300 million, previously had no procedure regarding locals who wanted to exit its grasp. The change is a sure sign that the NEA is worried. Janus v. AFSCME got rid of “fair share fees” for teachers who aren’t union members. Now the NEA is concerned that entire locals—not just individual teachers—want to leave the bullying national union.

NEA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The NEA’s 2019 Bylaw Amendment 6 stipulates that any union local that wants to disaffiliate from the parent organization:

And the new restrictions don’t stop there. 

Just to guarantee the grip the NEA has on little ‘ol locals, Bylaw Amendment 5 allows the NEA’s national body—not just its state affiliates—to establish trusteeships over local unions. Once the a trusteeship is in place, a local cannot leave the NEA. And once the NEA is in control, it directs that local’s books, funds, actions, and officers.

Overall, it’s not surprising that the NEA is barricading the exit doors now. As we’ve documented before, a quiet revolution is taking place across the country with locals exiting the NEA.

The two largest are in Memphis, Tennessee and Clark County, Nevada. In 2015, the 3,500-strong Memphis-Shelby County Education Association (M-SCEA) left the NEA and its state affiliate, the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), because the parent unions touted policies Memphis teachers opposed and offered dismal representation. 

Earlier this year, the M-SCEA told us their story of disaffiliating

“TEA Legal was terrible,” explained M-SCEA Executive Director Keith O. Williams. “We had (hundreds) of teachers laid off, and NEA couldn’t help. They served the [rest of the] state and not us.”

The Clark County Education Association (CCEA) exited NEA in 2018 with a whopping 11,000 union members—making it the largest union nationwide to disaffiliate. In Kansas, another 1,800-member union left the NEA this year. There are yet others in Kansas, Indiana, Ohio and Florida that have done so in the last five years.

Besides being more accessible and accountable to members, independent local unions are able to reduce administrative bloat and lower dues. CCEA’s annual dues per member, for example, dropped from $810 to $630. At Ohio’s award-winning Indian Hill Exempted Village School District, the union left NEA and promptly slashed dues from $757 to $200 a year.

The worst of the NEA’s power grab is that the union’s own history shows centralization is a bad idea. The union instituted a “unified dues” system in 1975, wherein a member of the local NEA affiliate also became a member of the state and national organizations, with dues levied at each tier. 

In practice, however, very little stays at the local level. At AFFT Director Keith Williams’ former school district, for example, just 4 percent went to the teachers doing the hard work of negotiating contracts and resolving employment issues. In fact, many educators around the country opted to leave the NEA when the union instituted unified dues.

The truth was and is that most teachers deeply appreciate their local union. Local representatives understand their district’s needs—including what communities and taxpayers can afford. With independent local unions, unionization isn’t an either/or question—freestanding locals appeal to liberals, conservatives and every teacher in between. 

The corporate NEA and its executives know the power of local. That’s why its leaders have just made it harder for locals to depart and deprive the NEA of revenue. But even if it’s harder to leave now, teachers know local control is far superior to obeying remote state and national unions. 

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