Explainer: Does AFT Really Have 1.7 Million Members?

How The Union Uses Accounting Tricks To Inflate The Numbers

On Friday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced its membership had risen to over 1.7 million members, surpassing the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to become the largest union in the AFL-CIO.

According to union officials, the milestone was reached last month when the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), which represents the U.S. territory’s 40,000 teachers, voted to affiliate with AFT.

However, as Education Week pointed out, the pact concluded between AFT and AMPR comes with several caveats. To start, the agreement only establishes a three-year “trial affiliation,” after which the two unions will decide whether to extend their relationship. Plus, although AMPR teachers will be considered full AFT members during this trial period, they will initially pay $12/year in dues to the union — far less than members of AFT affiliates elsewhere.

AMPR got a good deal from AFT: all the benefits of membership at a fraction of the cost.

But AFT’s 1.7 million claim is dubious for a more fundamental reason: the union uses creative accounting when tallying its membership. For example, in AFT’s 2016 annual report to the U.S. Department of Labor, they claimed to have 1.54 million members in 31 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, but a closer look reveals only 675,000 of those individuals were actual full dues-paying members. A significant portion of the rest belonged to a hodgepodge of special membership classes: one-half members (204,344), one-quarter members (93,047), one-eighth members (34,104), associate members (49,984), and laid-off/unpaid leave members (1,808).

AFT’s 2016 membership numbers from their annual report to the U.S. Department of Labor

Their overall membership count also included nearly 357,000 retiree members and approximately 128,000 members of affiliates — in Florida, Minnesota, Montana, New York, and North Dakota — that have merged with NEA.*

In short, as is often the case with AFT, there is a huge gap between their rhetoric and reality.


[*]: Note that these are self-reported numbers and therefore subject to AFT’s interpretation. In a piece for The 74 earlier this year, Mike Antonucci claimed, “more than 600,000 working AFT members belong to merged NEA/AFT local and state affiliates” in 2016.


Originally published at peterccook.com on September 5, 2017.