Why should North Carolina continue to provide free administrative services to a private organization when that organization refuses to release membership information to prove it’s in compliance with state law? That’s the question a lot of people are wondering these days.
The North Carolina Association of Educators, the largest teachers union in North Carolina, refused – on two occasions – to provide membership information to the Office of the State Auditor to certify that the organization has 40,000 members and thus is in compliance with state law to receive dues check-off benefits
According to a February 2017 report from the State Auditor’s Office, the state continues to provide payroll deduction services for approximately 7,300 NCAE members, as well for approximately 40,000 members of other employee associations.
The auditor’s report states that “NCAE refused to furnish the information. We do not have the authority to compel NCAE to turn over this information because as a private entity, NCAE does not fall under the authority of the State Auditor. However, NCAE reported a total membership count of approximately 70,000 on their web site as of December 4, 2016. We were not able to confirm the membership count.”
What is interesting is that it appears a good number of people know that NCAE is not in compliance with membership requirements. Mike Antonucci, a long-time tracker of all things regarding teacher unions, reported numbers that didn’t meet the threshold and expressed dismay that North Carolina has not acted.
Antonucci reported on his web site, Education Intelligence Agency, that NCAE membership “lost more than 38 percent of its membership over the last 13 years. The losses push NCAE membership under the threshold for payroll deduction for dues but the state of North Carolina appears unable to enforce the law.”
According to documents on the site, NCAE 2016 membership in North Carolina was estimated at 39,948, down 3, 727 from the previous year. Antonucci also listed North Carolina as one of the National Education Association’s “five financially shakiest” unions.
NCAE is the National Education Association State Affiliate in North Carolina. In 2015 NCAE membership declined 9.6 percent and total membership is only half of what it was in 2010. In addition, in 2015, NCAE ran a deficit of $690,000.
So how did all this happen? Fresh from gaining majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, in 2011 Republican legislators were looking to rein in an organization that had worked very hard to defeat many Republicans. Legislation was passed that prohibited the state from collecting dues from NCAE members. NCAE immediately brought a legal challenge and won an injunction against implementing the prohibition on the grounds that since the legislation only singled out NCAE, it amounted to viewpoint discrimination. The injunction remains in place to this day.
Fast forward to 2014. Lawmakers made a small change to dues check-off legislation: requiring the Office of the State Auditor to certify that the NCAE membership was at least 40,000 and that the majority of those must be public school teachers. The bill was approved.
Unfortunately, the threshold language was added in the same paragraph that mentions a threshold for state employees of 2,000. The change generated legal confusion. Hoping to bring clarity, the Office of State Controller determined the appropriate threshold was 2,000. Of course, you have to wonder how it was determined and how such a directive can be consistent with state law.
That said, the fact remains North Carolina continues to provide administrative services for an organization that fails to comply with state law. Of course, there is another question underneath the legal issue: Why does North Carolina provide free administrative services to private organizations? Doing so only provides real subsidies and savings to certain organizations at the expense of all taxpayers. It puts state government in the position of playing favorites.
This must stop. North Carolina needs to stop collecting dues for NCAE. The organization is taking advantage of the government’s helping hand but refuses to comply with the law.
The way to correct this problem is to enact new legislation that gets state government out of the business of withholding dues check-off privileges for private organizations altogether. Dues check-offs lack a justification for state involvement, while they are a great way for the government to play favorites by doing a favor to certain groups. Those are two good reasons for the legislature to address the problem once and for all.