By Mark Tapscott of The Epoch Times, featuring IWF’s Education Freedom Center and Director Ginny Gentles

America’s largest labor union is the National Education Association (NEA), organized in 1906 with a congressional charter “to elevate the character and advance the interests of the profession of teaching; and to promote the cause of education in the United States.”

One hundred and sixteen years later, the average individual U.S. teacher salary is $60,909, just below the median household income of $67,521 for the country in 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Inadequate teacher pay has long been a staple of NEA rhetoric and advocacy, as seen in this April 29, 2019, statement by then-NEA President Lily Ekelsen Garcia:

“Across the nation educator pay continues to erode, expanding the large pay gap between what teachers earn and what similarly educated and experienced professionals in other fields earn.

“Educators don’t do this work to get rich, they do this work because they believe in students. But their pay is not commensurate with the dedication and expertise they bring to the profession.”

Given the NEA’s frequently professed concern about low teacher pay, critics wonder why the union spends so little of the $377 million it received mostly in dues paid by 2.9 million members in 2021 on “representational activities”—that is, bargaining for better pay and working conditions for rank-and-file classroom teachers.

According to its latest LM2 report to the Department of Labor, the NEA spent only $32 million, or 8.5 percent of its total dues revenues, on those representational activities.

Asked about the extremely generous salaries paid to NEA employees, National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix told The Epoch Times that “it is good to be a union official, particularly when you are granted special privileges to impose your so-called ‘representation’ on your ‘brothers and sisters’ in order for them to keep their jobs and support their families.”

Equally skeptical was Virginia Gentles, Director of the Education Freedom Center of Independent Women’s Voices, who told The Epoch Times “the teachers union empire needs to be dismantled” because it works against the interest of teachers.

“Rather than advocating for increased salaries for teachers, union leaders lobby for more federal and state funding so school districts will hire more dues-paying members, many of whom aren’t actually teachers,” Gentles said.

“Unfortunately, the unions have no interest in increasing teacher salaries; union leaders are just focused on increasing membership and collecting dues to spend on political campaigns and union leaders’ already-high salaries. Teachers union leaders are self-serving and callous to the needs of individual teachers. Parents shouldn’t have to feel powerless and teachers shouldn’t feel hopeless anymore,” she said.