Troubles Not Over for Texas Teacher Union

Published August 1, 2001

In June, the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA), affiliated with the National Education Association, announced exploratory efforts to merge with the Texas Federation of Teachers (TFT), affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

The merger negotiations are part of an effort by TSTA to reverse its sagging financial and membership fortunes. However, TSTA’s plans are meeting resistance from the other teacher union and from its own staff union.

Earlier this year, the Education Intelligence Agency reported that TSTA would be facing a $1 million budget deficit for next year, and that NEA had extended the union a $3 million loan, payable over the next 10 years. In response to these budget troubles, TSTA officials developed a restructuring plan. In an internal memo to local leaders, TSTA President Ignacio Salinas Jr. and Executive Director E.C. Walker explained, “After years of spending more than we were collecting in dues, it was obvious that we could not survive if we did not change our ways.”

How did TSTA reach this precipice? Dues and membership numbers.

Membership Plummets

Subsidized by NEA, TSTA reduced state dues for new members to $99 (later, $149) in an effort to build numbers. They were successful in signing up members at a loss, but are having grave difficulties holding on to them at the regular rate of $329. TSTA’s membership is currently 58,500, and that’s only if you include its 14,000 life members, whose dues have already been paid and so bring in no new money.

TSTA’s spring membership drive apparently has produced fewer than 300 new members statewide. All told, TSTA’s membership is down 1,500 from last year, and would be worse if not for a 700-member increase in Austin, where TSTA and TFT locals merged in 1999.

With TFT’s statewide membership at 34,000, even the combined membership of TFT and TSTA would not approach that of the independent Association of Texas Professional Educators, a non-union education association that last year celebrated passing the 100,000 member mark. A fourth organization, the independent Texas Classroom Teachers Association, also has more than 40,000 members.

Rank-and-File Oppose Merger

At TFT’s annual convention in late June, the union’s leadership proposed a resolution to authorize them to pursue the merger agreement with TSTA. The resolution was approved, but not before it was amended by delegates to specify 14 prerequisites for any state merger agreement, including a guarantee that at least two-thirds of the membership of the new organization affiliate with the AFL-CIO. The list appears designed to stop the merger before it even begins.

TSTA’s difficulties don’t end there. Included in the union’s plan to balance the budget is a shutdown of all satellite offices around the state, relocation of all staff members to Austin, and a staff reduction of up to 20 percent. Many staffers will now find themselves on the road three to four nights per week. In addition, staff pay hikes are highly unlikely and TSTA is expecting the staff to accept cuts in their fully paid health insurance benefits.

Union Staff Vote to Sanction Affiliate

Employees of teachers’ unions are themselves members of unions, and the umbrella group for all the staff unions of NEA state affiliates is the National Staff Organization (NSO). At a national meeting of these state staff unions in late June, the assembled delegates passed New Business Item 05-01, which mandates that “The NSO take sanctions against the Texas State Teachers Association.”

The sanctions were deliberately left unspecified, but whatever endeavors TSTA plans next, it can expect little or no staff support from other NEA state affiliates.

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 or from [email protected].