The clout of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers is primarily due to the manpower and financial resources of their vast membership.
It is obviously in the unions’ interest to magnify their numbers as much as possible. That is particularly true in right-to-work states, where the unions not only compete with other organizations for members, but must also deal with individuals who choose to belong to no organization at all.
The accompanying table provides an admittedly imperfect measure of the unions’ “market share”: their strength relative to their potential strength. The table does, however, eliminate two biases that have afflicted previous examinations of NEA-AFT membership numbers. First, the table here counts only those who work in public education. In the case of the AFT, the table also eliminates those who work in higher education. While these members obviously add to the strength of the unions in general, they cloud the picture of union influence over K-12 public education.
Second, the table eliminates the double-counting of merged affiliates. When the NEA and AFT affiliates merged in Minnesota, NEA claimed the former Minnesota Federation of Teachers members in its total numbers, and AFT claimed the former Minnesota Education Association members in its total numbers. According to the unions, the merger produced a combined growth of 70,000 members. In fact, it produced no net change in combined membership for the two organizations. The same holds true in Florida, Montana, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Wichita, and Austin.
An Upper Limit
The total number of employees in the public school system is derived from Table 3 in an April 2002 U.S. Department of Education study titled Public School Student, Staff, and Graduate Counts by State: School Year 2000-01 by Beth Aronstamm Young.
For this analysis, total K-12 staff—the second column of the accompanying table—is defined to include all teachers, instructional aides, instructional coordinators and supervisors, guidance counselors, librarians, student support staff, and other education support personnel. It excludes, however, school administrators, district administrators, and their support staff, on the supposition that the vast majority of these employees are ineligible for membership in NEA and AFT. The number in the second column thus defines the upper limit for K-12 union membership in each state.
The number of NEA active members for 2000-01 (fourth column) comes from the union’s annual report on membership to the NEA Representative Assembly. As reported by the NEA, these numbers do not include substitute, staff, student, or retired NEA members—about 231,000 people. Although important to the union’s overall strength, these people are not regularly employed in the public school system.
Unfortunately, because the NEA does not break them out, the NEA active numbers do include those members who work in higher education—about 100,000 members nationwide. Thus, the NEA numbers in the table overstate its K-12 membership by about 4 percent. The NEA numbers count each individual as one member, regardless of whether that individual is full-time or part-time.
The AFT numbers are more problematic, as they do not equal “members” at all. These are votes allotted, based on membership numbers, to AFT locals at the 2002 AFT Convention. “Votes” are roughly equal to the number of full-time equivalent employees who are members of the union. For example, two half-time employees equal only one vote.
Moreover, the AFT numbers do not count the members of some of the organization’s smallest locals, who did not send representatives to the convention and thus had no votes. Finally, the number of votes is based on average AFT membership between the years 2000 and 2002, which means they are probably very close to 2000-01 numbers, but are not a snapshot accounting as NEA’s numbers are. Total AFT numbers likely are understated in the table by about 10 percent.
But since the unions’ double-counting of merged affiliates exaggerates their numbers by more than 6 percent, and the number of higher education, retired, and non-education members also helps exaggerate the unions’ market share in K-12 public education, this table is at least as accurate a picture of union influence as raw membership numbers.
What the Table Tells Us
The largest NEA-AFT combined “membership” totals lie mainly in the states with the largest numbers of K-12 staff, with Texas and Georgia being notable exceptions. More than 50 percent of NEA-AFT national “membership” strength comes from just eight states: California (10.9 percent of total U.S. members), New York (8.7 percent), Illinois (5.9 percent), Pennsylvania (5.8 percent), New Jersey (5.6 percent), Michigan (5.3 percent), Ohio (4.5 percent), and Florida (3.9 percent).
In a dozen states, the NEA-AFT share of potential membership exceeds 80 percent, with the shares in Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Massachusetts exceeding 90 percent. However, NEA-AFT share of potential membership is 25 percent or less in five states: Mississippi (11.5 percent), Texas (13.1 percent), South Carolina (13.5 percent), Georgia (20.1 percent), and Arkansas (25.0 percent). Notably, the two unions combined have managed to capture only a little over half (54.9 percent) of total K-12 staff across the U.S.
While the NEA share of potential membership exceeds 50 percent in 25 states, the AFT share among the states rises above 50 percent only in New York (56.0 percent). In fact, the AFT share of potential membership exceeds 25 percent in only five states—New York, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Florida, and Illinois—and three federal jurisdictions—the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.
Mike Antonucci is director of the Education Intelligence Agency, an organization that conducts public education research, analysis, and investigations. His weekly Communiqué is available at http://members.aol.com/educationintel or from [email protected].
For more information …
The April 2002 U.S. Department of Education report by Beth Aronstamm Young, Public School Student, Staff, and Graduate Counts by State: School Year 2000-01, is available at the Web site of the National Center for Education Statistics at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002348.pdf.