Why Are Teachers Part of a Union?

November 17, 2023

Teachers started unionizing in the 1950s, and these unions have been a crucial part of the education sector ever since. Unions serve as a bargaining platform for educators, where they can put forth their demands for common problems, such as wages, working hours, and classroom sizes. 

In this post, we’ll explore the benefits of these unions and why some teachers join them.

Benefits of Teachers’ Unions

Teachers’ unions in the United States rank among some of the most consistently successful labor organizations in the country, as they provide important benefits to their members. Here are some common reasons why teachers enroll in these unions:

Negotiating Wages

One of the major benefits of teachers' unions is that they give educational professionals a platform to fight for higher wages and better benefit packages. 

There is substantial evidence that solidifies the link between unionized efforts and higher wages. For example, in a recent study conducted by Jeffery Keefe of Rutgers University, the weekly earnings of union and nonunion teachers across the United States were compared. 

He found that union membership, on average, resulted in “5.1% higher wages and 5.4% higher total compensation for its members when compared with the compensation of public school teachers who are not union members.”

Unifying Platform 

In order to make their voices heard, teachers need a platform to communicate as a unified front. Unions enable educators to organize themselves, conduct meetings, and decide upon pressing concerns. 

To strengthen their representation, many unions have started taking measures to streamline efficiency, such as conducting online union elections. This makes the election process easier, as members can conveniently vote from the comfort of their homes. Due to their convenience, online voting systems can lead to increased voter turnout and a more fair representation of the union. 

Legal Support for Teachers

Teachers' unions also provide legal assistance and support to their members. These unions provide legal advice as well as representation in a variety of situations, such as when teachers face disciplinary action.

Health Benefits

Teachers' unions have a long-standing history of urging the authorities to improve the health benefits given to teachers. 

A prime example of this was in September 2012, when the country’s third-largest teachers' union took to the streets to protest against a host of issues. For a week, 26,000 Chicago teachers marched on the picket line. The strike ended when city officials compromised on multiple ends, including better health insurance. 

Continuing Professional Development

Teachers' unions provide continuing professional development opportunities for educators. Unions are adept at providing a broad spectrum of quality professional development programs that consistently prove to be of value to teachers. This provides them with the assistance necessary to climb the professional ladder. 

Challenges Related to Teachers’ Unions

Teachers’ unions have accomplished noteworthy feats during the past decades. However, they also face a set of important challenges. These include:

  • Negative media portrayal–teachers' unions often have to battle with being portrayed as prioritizing their own interests over student needs, which leads to a less favorable public image. Of course, everything in the media isn’t true and stories are often sensationalized for public attention.
  • Political involvement–teachers' union movements can get caught up in political debates, catching negative attention. This is often beyond the control of the union being discussed.
  • Internal disputes–just like any other organization, teachers' unions can fall victim to internal power struggles and politics.

Plus, many countries have experienced massive generational turnover of teachers in the past few decades. The newer generation often lacks the experience with teachers' unions fighting and winning battles with employers and governments. 

Finally, with the intensification of teaching, teachers are less likely to find the time and mental space to engage in union activities. 

In Closing

Teachers’ unions are multifaceted organizations that serve as a vital voice for educators, advocating for improved working conditions, fair compensation, and a stronger voice in shaping educational policy. However, it is essential to acknowledge that due to the challenges faced by these unions in recent years, there is a need for transparency and accountability within the unions to ensure that they continue to be a force of positive change for teachers. 

Curious about what professions cannot unionize? Be sure to check out our latest post!

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