TEA’s Membership Down, PET’s Up

Enrollment to the state’s largest teachers’ union is on the decline after the state OK’d sweeping changes to collective bargaining laws, but a rival educators’ association says their ranks are growing.

Professional Educators of Tennessee say their association has seen a 10.6 percent membership uptick in the last year. Meanwhile, several Tennessee Education Association chapters in Middle Tennessee have collectively lost 24 percent of their dues-paying members on automatic payroll deductions, according to statistics first reported by the Tennessean.

“I’m just glad that we have injected competition into the system,” said Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, who sponsored the Education Professional Collaborative Conferencing Act this spring. The law gives school districts the autonomy to set education policy without the approval of a teachers’ union.

“No one organization or one union should have an explicit right to negotiate on behalf of all teachers,” he said. “I’m not surprised. I’m ecstatic.”

The TEA represents the lion’s share of public school teachers in the state and is affiliated with the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union.

The TEA says it will have official membership numbers later this month, but admits membership is dropping.

“I think the whole intention behind this legislation was to try to hurt our membership,” said Jerry Winters, a lobbyist for the TEA.

“When you take away collective bargaining, when you weaken the tenure law, there are some teachers who say there’s nothing the organization can do to help me because they stripped them of their legal right,” he said.

The new law allows organizations like PET to distribute recruitment fliers and information, a practice that was previously banned.

“As people learn about us, they’ll find there is a good difference” between the PET and the TEA, said Bill Gemmill, PET director of membership and media. Those differences include higher liability coverage, lower annual dues payments and a conscientious abstention from political activity, he said.

“I can’t imagine why any teacher would want to join them,” said Winters, who argues the PET has avoided speaking out on education issues. “If teachers are joining them because they’re cheaper, then they’re going to get what they pay for.”

The new law also gives school boards the right to refuse to let teachers automatically pay their TEA union dues using payroll deductions, but the Sumner County School District is the only school board so far to use that power.

Most aspects of the “collective conferencing” law don’t kick in until teachers’ current labor contracts expire.

Of the 92 contracts across the state, 41 have expired this year, Winters said, with the law used to determine new working agreements.

  • Min

    I don’t get it. PET supported the repeal of the bargaining law and supported tying tenure and other employment decisions to this disastrous new evaluation system. Why would anyone join an organization that sold them down the road in the legislature?

    • Karen

      Why would anyone join an organization that costs twice as much for less liability coverage and that takes much of that money to help advance the cause of liberal issues and candidates they do not support?

    • William

      It was a TEA initiative to overhaul the evaluation process in Tennessee. TEA and Governor Bredesen held hands together on that mess. Typically, libs and leftists blame things on others who are not accountable. Please check your facts before you make statements that are TEA talking points, designed to get them out of a hole.

      And yes, PET was proud to support the “repeal of the bargaining law”. If someone made a law that said you had to walk around with duct tape over your mouth, wouldn’t you want that law repealed? PET finally had the duct tape removed from its mouth and is now speaking up. And you hate it. Get over it.

  • Amy Liorate

    Hey, if the TEA wants to remain a factor all they have to do is start meeting the needs of teachers better than any other group. Competition benefits everyone! I think this shows clearly that having more associations or insurance providers is better, not worse, for those who need these services.

    Let’s just hope no group tries to co-opt things by force of government rather than by just improving their offerings.

  • Jane A. Thomas

    I am pleased to be in a cooperative relationship instead of an adversarial one with our Board and Director. It has never made sense that I could not belong to my local association with out belonging to and funding NEA with which I have major value issues. TEA has taken too much credit for teacher raises and benefits that were already built in. Wake up! I am proud member of PET.

  • Scott

    Really? PET membership up 10% is news? That is 70 new members since they only had 7000 the year before. And they say above that PET has “a conscientious abstention from political activity.” Really? I distinctly remember PET at the table lobbying FOR the repeal of EPNA, FOR the change in the tenure law, and many many more issues this past year. This is what I have heard all my life, “Judge not, because you will become what you hate.” PET will become what they claim to hate. They will grow, be very active politically, and then what? I don’t mind another professional organization, but why do you have to pretend you are something you are not to get members. In our county, PET has no local leadership or organization. PET is never at a school board meeting, has never met with the board or the director of schools to ask for a raise or anything else. So what I tell people is TEA is the best because of the local organization to make changes that really effect the lives of teachers at the local, state, and national level.

    • William

      Hey, Scott…bless you, man. You are an example of some of the worst that TEA-backed teachers have to offer. Ten percent of 7000 is 700, not 70. That kind of arithmetic is why TEA doesn’t know how many members they have. One person says 65,000, another says 54, 000. Who knows?

      And why would PET be for repeal of EPNA? Among other things, so they could have EQUAL ACCESS to school boards, school directors, and anyone else who had been, up to the repeal, out of bounds for PET. The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States had been denied to PET officials for so long. With EPNA repeal, what PET has is the same kind of access that TEA has. The Constitution is now applicable to all parties, not just PET. Now PET can grow and train local leadership and build local organizations, because with Equal Access, PET and every other organization has the right to inform teachers at the school building level. Competition hurts monopolies, doesn’t it?

      Yes, PET was for the strengthening of the Tenure Law. They were never for abolishing tenure. Too many poor teachers were being given tenure and being passed around from school to school. The status quo had to change. A good teacher at 3 years will still be a good teacher at 5 years, but a poor teacher will have a difficult time holding on to the job for 5 years.

      And there is something most notable that you did not address in your comments…Evaluations. Thanks for not blaming that on PET. It was, after all, a TEA initiative to overhaul the evaluation process in Tennessee. TEA and Governor Bredesen held hands together on that mess.

      And finally, contrary to your statement, “PET will become what they claim to hate”, PET doesn’t hate anything or any one. PET just wanted to be a part of the process. Now that PECCA2011 passed, PET will be allowed to come to the table of discussion. After all, the law’s name, “Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act of 2011” was no accident.