Why Nevada Teachers Are Leaving the Union

Published June 11, 2014

It’s easy to lump individuals together in a group based on one specific characteristic.

How many people have been cut off in traffic by someone with a California license plate, then blasted those “California drivers”?

Generalizations are especially prevalent in politics. Who’s heard that rural Nevada is conservative, but Las Vegas is liberal? Or that rednecks vote Republican, but Latinos vote Democratic?

Now sometimes generalizations serve an importance purpose—like informing predictions of how many seats Republicans will pick up in the House and Senate in the 2014 elections. That’s an upcoming event that will be heavily influenced by how things stand now. But in the long term, generalizations ignore the sea changes that occur beneath the surface. These changes occur in small steps and create the large-scale movements that seem to appear out of nowhere.

A change like that is happening right now within Nevada’s teacher union.

Only Two in Five Teachers Unionized
The Nevada State Education Association claims it is teachers’ “voice in education.” It doesn’t seem misleading for the teachers union to say it speaks for teachers, except for one very significant fact.

The teachers union doesn’t represent two in five teachers in the state.

In the Clark County Education Association and Washoe Education Association, NSEA’s two largest local chapters, just 59.5 percent and 60.5 percent of teachers, respectively, are union members. These districts contain over 85 percent of the state’s teachers. In Nevada’s 15 smaller districts, less than 68 percent are union members. In total, just 60.6 percent of Nevada’s teachers belong to a union.

Two-Week Window
Union membership wasn’t always this low. While Nevada is a right-to-work state and no teacher must join the union, once a teacher joins, he or she can only leave by submitting written notice between July 1 and 15.

That two-week window is in the middle of summer when school-related activities are far from the minds of most teachers. That’s intentional. Union officials know that many teachers will leave if they can.

One catalyst for the recent drop in union membership has been a Nevada Policy Research Institute effort to let teachers know that they can leave the union and when and how to do so. For the last two years, NPRI has run information campaigns letting teachers know about the 15-day period when they can make a personal decision about union membership.

The response of teachers has been profound, many thanking NPRI for sharing this information, and many more abandoning the union in droves. In just two years, more than 1,400 teachers have left NSEA, reducing its annual dues income by more than $1.1 million.

Why Teachers Leave
So why are teachers leaving? Here are some of the reasons teachers have given NPRI:

Poor customer service. Why would a teacher pay more than $700 a year to an organization that won’t return their phone calls or treat them with respect?

Save $700 a year. Many teachers believe they can spend the $700-plus that would have gone to union dues better than union officials. Mortgage payments, vacations, and educational supplies for teachers’ own children are some alternate uses.

Better benefits elsewhere for less. Union members do receive a $1 million liability protection policy, and many teachers want financial protection from potential lawsuits. Teachers have choices, however, and better insurance and benefits superior are available from national, non-partisan professional-educator associations. For instance, the Association of American Educators provides, for only $180 a year, a $2 million liability insurance policy, legal protection, and supplementary insurance.

The union plays politics with teachers’ money. Last year, NSEA made a $1 million donation to support the margin-tax ballot initiative. This year, it’s likely to spend even more. And union bosses brag often about their ability to play politics in Carson City. Yet most teachers aren’t involved in education for politics. Many teachers just want to teach, and leave political pursuits to their personal lives, not their professional ones.

Just like students, every teacher is unique and has unique reasons for wanting to leave their union. Undeniably, many believe leaving the union is best for them.

Victor Joecks ([email protected]) is executive vice president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Article reprinted with permission. Image by Ted Eytan.