Labor Giant Puts Politics, Pay Over Serving Teachers

NEA spends more on lobbying than representing members

September 25, 2014

The nation’s largest teachers union spends three times as much money on politics, overhead, and union administration as it does on serving its membership, according to federal labor filings.

The National Education Association (NEA) headquarters spent nearly $45 million on "political activities" in 2013, about $500,000 more than it spent on membership services classified as "representational activities," such as negotiating collective bargaining agreements and helping members with employment grievances. The labor giant spent an additional $90 million on overhead costs and union administration—more than double the total spent on individual members. The union’s expenses on staffing, administration, and politics accounted for about 40 percent of its total expenses for the year.

The union annually collects nearly $370 million in dues from its 3 million members, as well as its 88,000 non-member teachers, according to the filings. The NEA publicly states that all of its energies are dedicated to advancing the interests of teachers and public schools. Union membership is a key driver for achieving these goals, according to the NEA website.

"Our mission is to advocate for education professionals and to unite our members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world," it says on its Vision, Mission, & Values page. "We believe individuals are strengthened when they work together for the common good. As education professionals, we improve both our professional status and the quality of public education when we unite and advocate collectively."

A Colorado teacher who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon on condition of anonymity for fear of alienating union supporters said the NEA’s spending made her question its dedication to teachers.

"A professional employee association should spend most of its budget on its employees and protecting them," the teacher said. "The NEA claims that it is committed to advancing the cause of public education, but I think that there is a disconnect in furthering its political agenda."

The NEA did not return request for comment.

The NEA’s spending reflects a union out to safeguard its political clout—rather than the rights of workers—according to Ryan Williams of Worker Center Watch.

"Big Labor unions like the NEA would rather push their radical political agenda instead of working to improve working conditions for their members," Williams said. "They would rather waste their resources on well-funded public relations campaigns designed to push policies that will force more people to join unions and pay union dues. Union bosses are solely focused on their bank accounts instead of the well being of workers."

Many teachers are forced to join the NEA as a condition of employment. Most opt to become full members, which allows them to vote in union leadership elections and entitles them to benefits such as liability insurance.

However, more than 88,000 teachers pay agency fees, which allows them to keep their jobs while paying partial union dues to cover representation costs without financing the union’s political agenda.

Some NEA members are now questioning how these agency fees are used once they are collected.

Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other California teachers are suing the California branch of the NEA to do away with agency fees in a case that is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court. They say that the teachers union’s bargaining with government officials over budgetary matters makes it a political entity.

Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm representing Rebecca Friedrichs and her co-plaintiffs, said that the NEA’s spending demonstrates that even agency fee payments can be used to further the interests of the union, rather than the individual teacher.

"The bulk of the NEA’s activities are political and there’s no surprise about that. What is surprising is that states like California force teachers to fund what the NEA calls ‘representational’ activity, which is often just as political as the overt political activities," Pell said in a statement. "Teachers should not be compelled to support any political activity no matter how the NEA is allowed to classify it."

The Friedrichs case is looking to build off of the Supreme Court’s decision in Quinn v. Harris, which eliminated an Illinois forced dues scheme instituted by imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The NEA filed a legal brief supporting forced dues payments.

Rick Berman, executive director of the labor watchdog Center for Union Facts, said that the NEA’s use of union dues demonstrates that it places a higher priority on politics than on acting in "the best interests" of its members.

"They’re giving money to groups that will reflect the social and economic views of union leadership and buying friends in the political world that they may need down the line," he said. "They’re doing a lot with the money that is not related to collective bargaining or processing grievances."

Published under: NEA , Unions