With over three million members nationally, the National Education Association (NEA) has become the nation’s largest union. Around 70 percent of East’s staff pays the $600 annual fee to retain membership in the union, despite the recent economic downturn. Members receive support in creating lesson plans and protection of their rights, according to East NEA representative Linda Sieck. The stated mission of the union 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.”
The benefits of being a member outweigh the price, according to Sieck. These benefits include the protection of due process rights and the negotiation of contracts. The only benefit teachers who do not pay the membership fee receive is the outcome of contract negotiation. Twenty-eight states across the nation require teachers to pay the union fee, even if they do not believe it is in their best interest to become a member. Membership for teachers in Kansas, however, is voluntary.
“[NEA] is a professional group that is promoting a great public education for students and giving teachers the best experience possible,” Sieck said. “It is definitely worth the price.”
Despite the economic situation and a push from the Kansas Legislature to abandon the current system and allow schools and districts to fire teachers and staff members whenever they want, most teachers have continued to renew their memberships. According to Sieck, veteran teachers who are NEA members have better protection from being replaced by those that are younger and less experienced than teachers who are not members. The longer a teacher remains at their school, the higher pay they receive and the less “replaceable” they become. Seniority amongst teachers is not guaranteed with membership to NEA, but according to Principal Karl Krawitz, it is a guideline used by both the union and the district to determine staff cuts.
Schools and teachers are not protected from the recent budget cuts by NEA. Dr. Krawitz says that NEA has no control over the funds given to the district by the state. What they can control, however, is the way the funds are distributed.
“The union and the district meet to talk about and negotiate the distribution of funds. The teachers get a say in what they want, but the union represents them,” Krawitz said.
The contract and budget negotiation process begins with teachers putting in their opinion of what they want. The union then bargains with the district’s administration and superintendent. The next round of re-negotiation, which occurs every two years, is beginning soon.
Science teacher Kim Vannice has opted out of membership to the NEA. While she understands that the program does good things for its members, she feels that $600 a year is quite expensive. Vannice sometimes worries about being at risk because she is not a member, but she knows that she is still somewhat protected. She is also cautious of joining the union due to recent political controversies concerning NEA. One such controversy is the claim that the NEA puts the interests of teachers ahead of the students. Despite these controversies, there have been no cases in which the union has been called in to defend a teacher in the past 15 years, Krawitz said.
Sieck feels that there are many misconceptions about the NEA, but the organization has very few negatives. For the 23 years that Sieck has been teaching, she has always had the union dues taken out of her paycheck. She feels that even in the economic downturn, it is smart to remain a member.
“It’s like insurance,” Sieck said. “If I ever need it, it will be there. And if not, it still helps me learn and gives me a voice in my contract.”