Some union memberships dip in volatile climate

Special to the Herald-Guide
August 15, 2014 at 10:02 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

By Jeremy Alford

Declines in membership are posing serious challenges for some teachers unions, but even those experiencing growth spurts are uncertain what the future political environment will look like in a state that’s trending both conservative and pro-business.

Total membership in the Louisiana Association of Educators, based on state statistics released by the national association, dropped to 12,334 in 2012-13, a 19 percent decrease since 2008-09, and a drop of 10 percent since 2011-12.

Ashley Davies, LAE’s communications specialist, told LaPolitics the losses are due to the economy, retirements and decreased investments in education by the state. She said the numbers “are not a true representation of the overall LAE membership,” adding, “We are pleased to report that we have met and exceeded our membership goals for the 2014 calendar year.”

Asked by email if the membership figures were inaccurate, Davies did not respond.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said his group lost roughly 5,000 members after Hurricane Katrina, but has since bounced back to nearly 21,000 members today, up from around 17,000 in 2008-09.

It may be too elementary to assume that LFT has picked off members from LAE in recent years, he said.  

“We’re not consciously going after LAE members,” Monaghan added. “This is a right-to-work state and some people may just be choosing not to join anywhere. Some may also be going the non-union route, with (the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana).”

A spike in retirements may be another cause, he said, as well as the increase in charter schools. But overall, Louisiana’s unions for teachers are coming off of a rocky few years and the future may offer more challenges.

Lawmakers continue to bring bills to eliminate payroll deductions for union members, similar to what was passed in Wisconsin. During this year’s session, such a bill failed in committee by a tie vote.

With anti-union voices, like U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who is running for governor, atop the 2015 ballot, Monaghan contends the fight isn’t over.

“Moving toward that election cycle, with the governor’s race and the (state) House and Senate races, we may see this conversation continue to play out over whether we want to be a union-free state or find a middle ground,” he said.

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