Tuesday, August 7, 2012

AFT Membership: Do the Numbers Add Up?

How does AFT report 1.5 million members to the public, and 873,454 members to the U.S. Department of Labor?  --- EIA
In the short term, the relative increase in AFT strength will have no effect. But if through policies or pure luck AFT were to hold its ground while NEA continued to experience large losses in membership, it could cause a sea change in relations between the two national teachers’ unions. -  EIA
If AFT is changing to "solution-driven unionism," what does that make the current unionism? --- EIA - http://www.eiaonline.com
When the National Education Association announced it had lost 118,186 members.
 it made headlines early last month. So when Randi Weingarten said during her speech at the AFT convention 2 weeks ago that the membership had held steady (though at the Progressive Caucus meeting she said it had gone up) she did it with a touch of gloating. I was sitting with Lee Sustar in the press section and we were wondering about the numbers -- how could the total number of votes which is listed at around 800+ thousand. How does that jive with a 1.5 million membership?

EIA's Mike Antonucci explores some interesting aspects on the AFT. Always read Mike with the caveat that he brings an anti-union bias but his facts can be trusted and analysis taken seriously. His point about the relations between the NEA and AFT is an important one. I know a lot of people think Randi is ambitious in the sense of having an eye on a cabinet post while I think her real ambition is to be the head of a merged union of almost 4 million members, something Al Shanker may have dreamed of but could never attain. I will refrain from making any snide remarks about either of them. What was clear at both the AFT and NEA conventions was that there are no merger talks on the national level but there are talks on the state levels, which I feel is the real strategy -- one state at a time. (Note Mike's comments on the state mergers.)

Questions About the AFT Convention. The American Federation of Teachers wrapped up its biannual convention in Detroit, and a few items have me wondering:
a) How did AFT get its New York Times columnist to show up when NEA couldn't?

b) If AFT is changing to "solution-driven unionism," what does that make the current unionism?

c) It's not surprising that Vice President Joe Biden delivered essentially the same speech as he did to NEA, but couldn't the delegates dream up a different chant?
d) How did the mainstream media fail to identify exactly who was protesting Biden's speech?
e) Is it a good thing that AFT members can get a 25% discount on something like this?

Could AFT Membership Really Be Up?

The American Federation of Teachers claims it currently has 1,536,684 total members. This is noteworthy because it constitutes an increase of 552 members since 2010 – a period during which the National Education Association lost 118,186 members.

Your first reaction was probably the same as mine: That can’t be right. But after allowing for the utter lack of independent confirmation, and the idiosyncracies of how NEA and AFT report their total membership numbers, an examination of the available figures indicates it is indeed possible.

Before I demonstrate, let’s begin with the unsolved mystery portion: How does AFT report 1.5 million members to the public, and 873,454 members to the U.S. Department of Labor? I don’t have the answer to that question. Other than the omission of retirees from the latter number – which can’t possibly total more than 660,000 – I have no explanation.

The second anomaly is easier to explain. Ever since the first NEA-AFT state affiliate merger in 1998, both national unions have included the total membership of merged affiliates in their numbers. Today, with four merged state affiliates, there are more than 650,000 union members who belong to both NEA and AFT.

But each of those members is not two people, and does not pay full dues to both NEA and AFT. Yet NEA counts the full 400,000 New York State United Teachers in its membership, and AFT also counts the full 400,000.

So, without any state-by-state numbers to look at, how can we evaluate AFT’s claims? By looking at NEA’s numbers for those merged affiliates – Florida, Minnesota, Montana and New York. Lo and behold, despite overall bad numbers for NEA, those four state affiliates showed a combined increase of 10,251 members in 2011. Since they also constitute more than 42% of AFT’s total membership, the gains by these affiliates probably offset losses in others – and could still have had some left over to compensate for losses everywhere in 2012.

In the short term, the relative increase in AFT strength will have no effect. But if through policies or pure luck AFT were to hold its ground while NEA continued to experience large losses in membership, it could cause a sea change in relations between the two national teachers’ unions.
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The opinions expressed on EdNotesOnline are solely those of Norm Scott and are not to be taken as official positions (though Unity Caucus/New Action slugs will try to paint them that way) of any of the groups or organizations Norm works with: ICE, GEM, MORE, Change the Stakes, NYCORE, FIRST Lego League NYC, Rockaway Theatre Co., Active Aging, The Wave, Aliens on Earth, etc.

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