The pros and cons of joining a teachers’ union
You’ve probably been there — a teacher’s union representative comes around and makes a pitch to you about why you should join the teacher’s union. Then, you look at the cost and hesitate, wondering, “Do I really need to join?” or “What do teachers’ unions even do?”
I’ve been a part of our local teacher’s union since I started teaching, but each year, I look at the cost and consider dropping my teacher’s union membership. I question whether the cost is worth it, and I get frustrated that so much of my membership dues goes to the National Education Association (NEA), rather than staying local.
Since so many teachers face these decisions each year, and in a world where every dollar of our salary counts, I wanted to answer some questions to help you better decide whether the benefits of joining the teacher’s union outweigh the costs.
What do teachers’ unions do?
Teachers’ unions are intended to be strong, unified organizations that strive to improve and protect the working lives of its educators. Local teachers’ unions filter into both state unions and the national union to drive large-scale education policies. Many teachers’ unions support teachers through professional development opportunities, salary negotiations, lobbying efforts, and legal assistance.
What are the benefits of joining a teachers’ union?
While I personally have major hesitations about my union dues (these concerns are discussed below), I do continue to sign up for the teachers’ union each year. These are the primary benefits I have witnessed with being a teachers’ union member:
1. Salary negotiations
Teacher’s unions typically lead the charge for contract and salary negotiations. Without a strong, organized, unified body of teachers, our district would not have implemented the raises we have received over the past few years. In a particularly difficult negotiations year, our local union rallied the public as well as maneuvered us skillfully through our impasse proceedings.
2. Advice and action
Without being part of a union, teachers might feel that they are on an island, especially if they are being treated unfairly at their schools. Being part of a union gives teachers a point-of-contact person to explain the situation and get advice on how to handle it. If needed, a local union representative might act as an intermediary or as a professional advocate in a troubled situation with a principal or other staff member. A union representative might also be able to give advice on whether a grievance should be filed. Knowing that there is a person and a process available to take action — if ever needed — can provide teachers with peace of mind.
3. Professional protection
If a teacher ever faces a legal issue, the union can likely help with this as well. While this feature, I’m sure, can vary from state-to-state and union-to-union, it is an aspect that can also provide peace of mind to teachers.
What are the cons to joining a teachers’ union?
While I keep signing up for the union year after year, the following are all concerns I face each time I do sign up.
The cost to be part of the teachers’ union is significant, especially when many teachers are counting on each dollar to get by. In my case, however, the cost to join the union is outweighed by the salary increases the union has gotten us, but in many places, that is not the case. You have to ultimately balance whether the dollars you are investing are giving you something in return, whether that is actual salary increases or simply the peace of mind a union might provide you.
2. The National Education Association (NEA)
The largest teachers’ union is the National Education Association (NEA), and they take most of my union dues. I wish the teachers’ union cost would be lowered, with less money going to our national union. The NEA is also politically affiliated, and I am frustrated that many of my union dollars supports a partisan-based organization.
3. Quality variances
Teachers’ union quality can vary from location to location, so you need to assess the quality of your local organization and decide whether the cost to join is worth it. In my case, our local union has a high-quality and that is ultimately what keeps me signing up each year. If the quality ever dropped, I would likely drop my membership and find a non-union alternative.
What are the alternatives to a teachers’ union?
Fortunately, more and more teachers’ union alternatives are being created every year. These non-union alternatives provide some of the benefits of a teachers’ union without such a high cost. These professional teaching associations are available at the national level, with some individual states providing options as well.
Most of these alternative teachers’ union memberships offer liability insurance, lawsuit protection, and professional resources. One of the most popular non-union teachers’ associations is the Association of American Educators (AAE).
Do I have to join a teachers’ union or can I opt out of union membership?
Until recently, many states required teachers to pay “agency” or “fair share” fees to be part of the teachers’ union, even if the teacher did not consent to that payroll deduction. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that teachers must opt-in before a union fee can be taken out of their paychecks.
In my state, union dues were already optional, but for teachers in many states, this Supreme Court ruling has opened up the opt-out option for the first time in their teaching careers. Teachers across the country will be able to decide whether to join a teachers’ union.
The Final Decision?
Ultimately, you will have to weigh the benefits and costs of a teachers’ union membership. As I mentioned earlier, I have reservations about the cost and allocation of my teachers’ union dues, but the benefits and peace of mind my local union provides currently outweigh my hesitations. Each year, however, before I sign my name on the line, I will continue to assess whether the relationship is still working.
I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on whether or not to join the teachers’ union! What are some pros and cons of teachers’ union membership that you have experienced? Comment below!