Friday, March 31, 2023

Teacher Union Endorsements: What's in a name?

When School Board Elections come around, so too come conversations (and opinions) about teacher unions. Along with a lot of acronyms. What do they all mean? What’s the difference, or connection, between them all? And why are they relevant?

The Rockwood School District has faced a lot of scrutiny over the past couple of years. A current allegation is that the NEA is trying to influence the district through the School Board, based on the RNEA endorsement of school board candidates. Such misconceptions about the different organizations and their respective roles at the district-level, or lack thereof, can be clarified by learning more about each organization. 

In actuality, an RNEA endorsement is not an NEA endorsement. An RNEA-endorsed school board candidate has been chosen by RNEA members, who are all Rockwood educators. To disparage an RNEA endorsement of a school board candidate is to disparage the very Rockwood educators that make Rockwood great.

Breaking it down Q&A style and starting off at the most basic level:

What is a “union”?

Starting simple: A union is “something that is made one: something formed by a combining or coalition of parts or members: such as (e) Labor Union” (Union Definition & Meaning, n.d.)

What is a “labor union”?  

A labor union may be defined as “an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions.” (Labor Union Definition & Meaning, 2023)

The US Department of Labor defines a labor union as “a group of two or more employees who join together to advance common interests…[and] are membership-driven, democratic organizations governed by laws that require financial transparency and integrity, fair elections and other democratic standards, and fair representation of all workers.” (Unions 101, n.d.)

Labor unions are sometimes also referred to as trade unions. Examples of labor or trade unions include: AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers, Teamsters Union, United Auto Workers, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and many more. 

What is the “NEA”?  

“NEA” is the acronym for the “National Education Association”. It is the largest labor union in the country, but not the only teacher union. According to the NEA’s website, the union works to “ensure that educators and public employees have a stronger voice.” and that “[w]hen educators are heard, respected, and given the resources we need, we can give students our very best.” (Become A Member | NEA, n.d.) 

NEA members fall into eight different categories that include: aspiring teachers, classroom teachers, support professionals, higher education, specialized instructional support, retired educators, public service employees, and community allies. 

NEA policy, resolutions, executive board, and annual budget are determined by members via majority vote at an annual meeting. This meeting is attended by 9,000 delegates elected by the 3 million NEA members. Outside the annual meeting, the organization is managed by an Executive Committee, also elected by members at the annual meeting, and the Board of Directors, composed of representatives from each state affiliate and each category of membership. 

The organization is governed by a Constitution, Bylaws, and Standing Rules. Policy Statements represent the position on current education issues. Resolutions relate to the NEA constitution’s goal areas and are determined by a majority vote of members. These areas include: serving as a national voice for education; advancing public education for all; promoting health and welfare of children; promoting professional excellence; recognizing importance of educators in learning process; protecting rights of education and other employees; securing professional autonomy; uniting education employees for effective citizenship; promoting and protecting human and civil rights; and obtaining for members benefits of an independent and united profession. (NEA Resolutions | NEA, n.d.) The Legislative program agenda addresses federal-level action. The annual budget is funded by member dues. (About NEA | NEA, n.d.) 

What is the “MNEA”?  

Missouri NEA is a state-level labor union affiliated, governed not by the NEA, but by MNEA's members. 

The mission is “to serve as the united voice to promote, advance, and protect public education and to advocate for the rights and interests of students and our members.” It is comprised of 32,000 members from 300 affiliated local associations across the state of Missouri. 

Policy is primarily determined by the Representative Assembly made of locally elected members and meets twice a year. Similar to the NEA’s annual meeting, this representative assembly votes democratically on budget, executive board elections, etc. 

Executive Officers are elected by delegates from the membership and are on leave from their respective school districts during their full-time service. NEA Directors are MNEA members likewise elected by MNEA RA delegates to serve on the NEA Board of Directors. There is also full-time staff to support MNEA operations and assistance to local affiliations. 

MNEA advocates for public schools, students, and employees at the state and federal level guided by the beliefs represented through the MNEA Resolutions. These Resolutions are not the same as the NEA Resolutions but are developed by a specific committee of MNEA members and voted on by the MNEA Representative Assembly. The organization provides access to legal support, professional development (training), and supplemental resources for classroom teachers, in addition to member benefits such as insurance discounts or entertainment and shopping. (MNEA, n.d.)

What is the “RNEA”?  

To begin, the “R” in RNEA stands for “Rockwood.” These are Rockwood Teachers, Rockwood paras, Rockwood administrators, and more who make up this local organization. These are the people who are vital members of our Rockwood School District. 

The Rockwood National Education Association is affiliated with MNEA and NEA, but is a separate entity with its own set of goals as established in the RNEA Constitution and Bylaws. RNEA is entirely local with membership for Rockwood School District employees only. RNEA advocates for Rockwood students by supporting teachers and providing advocacy with the District Administration. (About Us, n.d.)

Policies are determined by vote by the RNEA Representative Assembly which consists of the Executive Board, committee chairpersons, and representatives from each school or building. The Executive Board, composed of the four officers and ten members elected by the general membership, is responsible for the general management. RNEA is also the official bargaining representative for all employees that are paid on the teacher salary schedule (teachers, counselors, special education teachers, instructional coaches, librarians, etc.) (RNEA, n.d.)

Furthermore, the role of the RNEA with respect to the District is specifically delineated within the RNEA-Rockwood Agreement. By having direct access to representation on district-wide committees and a Superintendent’s Forum (which does not include School Board Directors), RNEA representatives are able to effectively advocate for improved teacher working conditions, which lead to improved student learning conditions. Despite what some may claim, nothing in the RNEA Bylaws or the RNEA-Rockwood Agreement provides a method for RNEA to determine policy or decisions for the district. The Executive Board provides a pathway for information and collaboration between teachers and District Administration. The RNEA-Rockwood Agreement requires a minimum of 50% membership of eligible staff in order for RNEA to be the bargaining representative. While exact numbers are not released publicly, general commentary indicates approximately 2/3 of the eligible staff in RSD belong to the RNEA. While union membership is a personal decision, a strong membership reflects the high confidence of district employees on how well RNEA advocates for them, so that they can best support their students.

What is a “PAC”?

“A political action committee (PAC) [is] an organization whose purpose is to raise and distribute campaign funds to candidates seeking political office. PACs are generally formed by corporations, labor unions, trade associations, or other[s].” (Levy, 2023)

Where does the money come from and where does it go?

Union member dues are split between RNEA, MNEA, and NEA, with amounts determined by each organization. These dues go towards supporting each organization’s member-approved budget expenditures as determined at the annual meeting described above.. 

PAC contributions are entirely separate from union dues and are voluntary contributions determined by the individual, which can be changed at any time, and go directly to the respective PAC fund the member has chosen. The NEA Fund for Children and Public Education is the NEA- PAC. The MNEA-PAC is a separate entity from the NEA Fund and funds are used “to help elect candidates to public office who support the interests of children and public education as well as support the MNEA Resolutions.'' Fifty percent of individual contributions are dedicated to state-level activity while the other fifty percent is allocated for use by the local district members (in Rockwood’s case, the RNEA.) RNEA members determine how to spend those funds while MNEA-PAC handles the accounting, legal filings, and administrative support. When a donation or expense for a district-level school board, levy, or bond campaign is made, it is the decision of the RNEA members. (Contribute to PAC, TISPE, or ESPE | MNEA (Missouri National Education Association), n.d.)  

Who is endorsing who?

As previously stated, NEA is not the same as RNEA. The NEA may endorse federal and sometimes state-level candidates for political office. The NEA does not endorse individual local school board candidates.  

MNEA-PAC Executive Council has a process for recommending state-level legislative candidates. The MNEA-PAC does not endorse or recommend individual local school board candidates. Any monetary contribution listed as from MNEA-PAC for a local school board election comes from funds from, and designated for, the local association. RNEA membership decides if, when, and how, to spend those funds.

How does RNEA determine who to endorse? RNEA endorsements are determined by a process controlled entirely by RNEA members. These endorsements are a statement of who members believe will best support the District’s Mission and are separate from any financial contributions from the local PAC funds. The non-partisan endorsement process entails two parts: a written questionnaire and oral interview. All candidates are invited to participate. While MNEA encourages local associations to align with MNEA beliefs and resolutions, the actual questions are determined by the RNEA committee based on their familiarity with the most relevant issues for the district and community. The committee’s recommendation is subject to approval by the RNEA Executive Board and Representative Assembly. Once the RNEA ratifies which candidates (if any) to endorse, that information is shared with MNEA, to be listed on the MNEA website, however there is no MNEA-level screening or approval of these recommendations. At no part in this process is an “NEA”-level person or committee involved in determining whether a candidate receives RNEA endorsement. (Elections & Candidate Recommendations | MNEA (Missouri National Education Association), n.d.) (RNEA School Board Endorsements, 2023)

In short:

RNEA is affiliated with MNEA and the NEA, however, RNEA is its own entity and is made up of your local Teachers and School Staff.  Priorities and focus areas are influenced from the bottom-up by members, as opposed to being directed by the NEA down to local level. 

Financial contributions towards a school board candidate, bond issue, or levy, are determined by RNEA members and come from voluntary contributions to the local PAC, not from membership dues, or from the NEA or NEA Fund.

It bears repeating: An RNEA endorsement is not an NEA endorsement. An RNEA-endorsed school board candidate has been chosen by RNEA members, who are all Rockwood educators. To disparage an RNEA endorsement of a school board candidate is to disparage the very Rockwood educators that make Rockwood great.


About NEA | NEA. (n.d.). National Education Association.

About Us. (n.d.).

Become A Member | NEA. (n.d.). National Education Association.

Contribute to PAC, TISPE, or ESPE | MNEA (Missouri National Education Association). (n.d.). Missouri NEA.

Elections & Candidate Recommendations | MNEA (Missouri National Education Association). (n.d.). Missouri NEA.

Labor union Definition & Meaning. (2023, February 6). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from

Levy, M. (2023, March 20). Political action committee (PAC) | Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica.

MNEA. (n.d.). MNEA (Missouri National Education Association).

NEA Resolutions | NEA. (n.d.). National Education Association.

RNEA. (n.d.). RNEA Constitution and Bylaws.

RNEA School Board Endorsements. (2023, January 12)., from

Union Definition & Meaning. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster.

Unions 101. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Labor.

Teacher Union Endorsements: What's in a name?

When School Board Elections come around, so too come conversations (and opinions) about teacher unions. Along with a lot of acronyms. What d...