Anti-union watchdog: IEA membership dropping

Teachers’ union membership in Idaho declined by nearly one-fifth from 2008-09 to 2011-12 — one of the steepest declines in the nation.

These numbers were first reported Monday by the Education Intelligence Agency, an anti-union watchdog group. A spokeswoman for the National Education Association confirmed their accuracy.

The Idaho Education Association neither confirmed nor denied the reported drop in membership. IEA President Penni Cyr said union membership in Idaho and nationwide “may be reflective of shifting political priorities and economic circumstances.”

According to the Education Intelligence Agency’s report, the NEA had 9,577 active members in Idaho, down 14.3 percent from 2010-11 and 17.7 percent from 2008-09. Only three states — Arizona, North Carolina and Wisconsin — saw a sharper dropoff over that three-year period.

The Education Intelligence Agency defines “active” union members as employed teachers, professionals and support workers. The group also compiled total union membership, which includes retirees, students and substitute teachers. For 2011-12, Idaho’s total membership was 11,286 — a 14 percent drop from 2008-09, and the fifth steepest decline in the nation.

Idaho’s membership declines were significantly higher than the national drop, according to the report. The NEA had slightly more than 2.7 million active members nationally in 2011-12, down 6.9 percent from 2008-09.

Penni Cyr
Penni Cyr, Idaho Education Association

Asked whether the membership report is accurate, Cyr said the IEA’s membership is “very fluid” and subject to a “constant ebb and flow.” She also said downsizing in education can affect membership figures.

“Our membership trends tend to mirror the current environment of education in Idaho,” Cyr said Tuesday. “Teaching positions have been lost in many districts around the state, and the policies and funding decisions of elected officials have served to marginalize education professionals. … The organization is on very solid ground and is grateful to have the support of so many passionate and motivated members.”

The IEA, the NEA’s Idaho affiliate, describes itself as “the state’s largest professional employee organization,” but it does not routinely divulge membership numbers. In a November 2012 news release, the NEA pegged its Idaho membership at “more than 11,000” — a figure in line with the total membership numbers released Monday.

Teachers’ union membership figures have been closely guarded, in Idaho and elsewhere. And in releasing the statistics Monday, Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency described them as “official” figures, gleaned through the “unofficial efforts of a handful of folks at the National Education Association Representative Assembly.”

On its website, Antonucci describes his group as “a private, for-profit, one-man contract research firm focused on the inner workings of the teachers’ unions.” The website also cites an Education Week article describing Antonucci as “the nation’s leading observer — and critic — of the two national teachers’ unions and their affiliates.”

The three-year period tracked by Antonucci coincided with the start of a bitter — and ongoing — debate over teacher labor laws in Idaho.

The 2011 Legislature passed Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s three Students Come First education laws, including one law narrowing the collective bargaining process. Voters rejected the three laws in November 2012, and the 2013 Legislature passed several laws reinstating pieces of the labor overhaul.

One of these new laws pertains to union membership, and says a local union must certify that it represents at least 50 percent of teaching staff, if a district demands documentation. The Nampa School District sought and received such paperwork this spring, at the start of the negotiations.

The Legislature has formed a committee to study K-12 issues prior to the 2014 session — and the committee is expected to look at the labor laws passed in 2013.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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