Membership in the country’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, is down by more than 87,000 active and retired members.

According to Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, “There are at least 40 state affiliates that have lost members from the past year.” This means 3 percent fewer dues-payers. (See state numbers here.) As the Heartland Institute reports:

NEA membership peaked in 2009 at more than 3.2 million. After a modest decline in 2010, EIA estimates the latest plunge represents a loss of $11 million in dues revenue. National teachers’ union leaders are faced with the prospect of laying off their own unionized employees. “[Unions] make a lot of money, but they’re not practiced at cutting costs. Even the loss of a little money in the overall scheme is a big deal,” said Antonucci. “They’ve never had to do this before, so anything is possible.”

Among the causes for the decline are government employees’ collective bargaining reforms like those enacted in Wisconsin and Tennessee. Many teachers prefer to join only their local unions and have little interest in becoming members of state or national unions—especially given their ability to collect involuntary fees.

Meanwhile non-union associations such as the Association of American Educators and the California Teachers Empowerment Network that focus on professionalism rather than politics are increasingly popular among teachers. It’s not hard to see why.

On average teachers make just under $48,000 annually. In contrast, the average NEA employee makes around $88,000, and more than half of all NEA employees make more than $100,000.

For all that money, union leader have not helped teachers with layoffs, even though education budgets were largely protected with large infusions of federal stimulus funds in 2009 and 2010.  

Younger teachers also don’t appreciate that unions protect seniority over talent.

Antonucci told the Heartland Institute that he predicts:

… the NEA could follow the example of declining private-sector labor groups. As they shed members, unions like the Teamsters redoubled efforts to influence legislators at the expense of recruitment. “Over time, if they continually do that, they’ll lose more and more members because they’re not focused on recruitment,” he said. “Eventually the politicians will stop paying attention to them.”