November 2, 2021

Janus Is A Glider, Not A Plane Crash

By Bellwether

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Here’s an update on NEA membership post-Janus. It’s down, substantially. Roughly nine percent over the past decade. So that’s something to think about while everyone waits for votes to be counted in Virginia to see if education really impacted the race as much as partisans hope or fear.

This membership trend is not unexpected. The Janus case ended mandatory union membership for public employee unions. Here’s a Bellwether deck with background and pre-decision context on the case.

A lot of people seem to have lost interest in Janus. Some seemed to expect that the court would rule against the unions in Janus on a Monday and by Friday the teachers unions would be in bankruptcy. If you think that you’re confusing the NEA with the NRA.

So now you hear a lot about how Janus really had no effect. This is wrong, too.

Janus introduced a set of constraints that are going to depress membership and revenue for the teachers unions and weaken them over time, but it’s a slow process. There are revenue offsets the unions can avail themselves of in the short term, there is still litigation about the boundaries of the case, as with any big SCOTUS decision, for instance what counts as an opportunity to leave a union. There is inertia. It will hit different states or locals differently, and both the NEA and AFT are confederations of affiliates. It will hit NEA and AFT differently. People are still learning about their options and as they see peers exercise them (and realize savings) it will be a contagion. (I haven’t followed it closely since the pandemic but it seems like some of the efforts to catalyze leaving by teachers have lost steam over the past few years.) It’s also harder now for the unions to recruit new members recusing join is an option in more places.

Regardless, not everyone will jump or decline to join. As you listen to the rhetoric it’s clear people also forget that not every teachers union member is being held against their will. There are strong union adherents, so the range of outcomes was not zero to status quo. The question is how low membership can fall before the teachers unions face an existential crisis. And this will ultimately auger badly for anyone hoping for moderation as we’ve seen.

It’s also important to bear in mind that, as we’ve discussed around here a few times, teachers union leaders have played their cards very well since Janus. They’ve taken a crappy hand and driven it hard – especially with a broader swath of members than are usually engaged. Someone over there is reading Sun Tzu.

The good news, for Democrats, is that the slow glide gives them time to wean themselves off of reliance on/Stockholm syndrome with the teachers unions and toward a more kids first and civil rights oriented style of education poliitcs. The bad news, there is not a lot of evidence that is happening. On school choice for instance the Democratic position is still at odds with a majority of voters and an even bigger majority of Black and Hispanic voters. That was a problem before the pandemic, and seems likely to be a bigger one in an era of increased appetite for options post-pandemic.

Anyhow, in our click addled media culture we don’t do slow glide stories, everything is a plane crash or it’s ignored. This isn’t. That doesn’t mean it will not have impact on the education sector over time.

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