A union, in general, is a collective group of professionals working as a collective bargaining unit. They come together as one, speaking for their masses, in order to collectively bargain on matters such as compensation, sick time, and paid time off. A teachers union, therefore, is a union that includes teachers. The bigger they are, the larger their voice. In exchange for looking out for their interests, teachers pay the union a percentage of their salary.
Teachers unions can be small, local affairs. That’s how they started out. In the modern era, though, teachers unions are now huge, statewide or even national affairs with thousands and sometimes millions of members. Their goal is to bind teachers together in common cause to guarantee job security, high wages, benefits, and the ideal working environment for their members.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Technically, teachers do not have a constitutional right to collectively bargain and so not all states allow for teachers unions to do so. Some states have prohibited collective bargaining for all public employees, which in theory should limit some of the things a teacher’s union can accomplish. In practice, unions often find ways around these rules and use their ability to go on strike (or a sick out) to pressure officials into giving them what they want.
With more than 3 million members, the National Education Association (NEA) is the largest teachers union in the USA. In fact, the NEA is the largest labor union and largest white-collar representative in the United States overall. No other union, in any industry anywhere, has more dues-paying members. Not only does the NEA represent public school teachers, but it also represents support personnel, teachers and staff at colleges and universities, retired educators, and college students who are preparing to become teachers. School administrators are also included in this large group of participating members.
As a member of this immense organization, the NEA offers numerous benefits. They can offer online lesson plans for teachers, they provide grants, and they also offer awards. For teachers just starting out, the NEA gives practical advice on classroom management, which is something teachers with years of experience may also tap into. The NEA also offers a bunch of freebies. They post free tools for teachers that they can use in their classrooms.
Another large teacher’s union is the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). You can join the AFT if you work in the K-12 school system, a college or university system, an early childhood center, a healthcare facility, or a government office. Their stated goals for their members are simple. They would like to make members’ voices heard, allow for better working conditions, and give access to members for better school resources.
The NEA and the AFT are just a couple of the large teacher’s unions across the country. There are others that wield enough power to bring the school education to their knees if they wish. As you will see, some teacher’s unions are very powerful. For some, that is a good thing, for others, it doesn’t sit well.
FOUR WAYS TEACHERS UNIONS EXERCISE POWER
Due to their large numbers of members, teachers unions wield immense power. Here’s just a few of the primary ways they use it…
- Strikes & Sickouts: When schools fail to comply with the demands of a teachers union, the union simply orders all of its teachers to walk off the job until they get what they want. Most teachers have contracts which set up a system in which they get paid whether they work or not, which means it doesn’t hurt them to sit at home. School, meanwhile, have no way to replace them and usually very little choice but to give the teachers union what it wants if they want their doors open.
- Voting Blocks: In many cities and small towns the public school system is the #1 employer. Even in a small town the teachers union controls hundreds and thousands of votes. It’s enough votes to sway elections and they use that power to get the people they want elected in office.
- Campaign Donations: Teachers unions take in an immense amount of money through the dues of their millions of members. They can then, in turn, use that money to influence politicians through campaign donations and other lobbying efforts. The NEA alone spent $20 million lobbying politicians in 2016. That number has only increased since then. Almost all of that money is given solely to Democrat candidates.
- Advertising: Because of their massive revenue stream, teachers unions are able to spend money on advertising to sway people to their side. Wonder why everyone keeps saying teachers are heroes? It’s an idea that didn’t start organically.
WHO IS REALLY IN CHARGE OF YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATION?
The main purpose of a teachers union, at least when first formed, was to be a unified and strong advocating body for teachers. Teachers felt that they needed a larger voice to improve their working conditions. They wanted better pay and better hours, but over time they also decided they wanted more control over what they were teaching your kids.
Teachers unions got exactly what they wanted. Because there are so many teachers paying dues, teachers unions have access to an immense amount of money. Because they have so many members who work together in lockstep, they can also use their membership as a massive voting block to control and sway elections. And what’s a school district supposed to do if a union gets all its teachers to go on strike? Most of the time, school districts have no choice but to give in to their demands if they want their kids in class.
Giving teachers a voice sounded like a good thing at first, but now many are questioning if they have too much say in what happens with their kids.
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One example being pointed to by teachers unions critics is the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). That union’s members recently decided that teachers were not going back to school for in-person learning, despite calls to return from parents, children, and nearly every city official. When schools opened, the union organized their teachers and ordered them simply not to show up. With no way to replace every teacher in the city of Chicago, schools were shut down, leaving kids without proper education and parents without anyone to watch their kids while they go to work.
Eventually even President Joe Biden himself got involved and asked that in-person learning continue. The CTU said no unless their demands, which many have critized as unreasonable and even damaging to the children they’re supposed to teach, were met. After some intense negotiating, the CTU has decided to send their teachers back to school, but not without a cost to the children under their care.
In the end, that’s what schools are supposed to be about: children. But children and their parents have no real power to influence what happens at schools. Teachers have all the power and any time they don’t like something, they have the ability to en masse simply walk off the job or to organize their massive voting block to sway elections in their favor. Teachers unions, which were originally formed to look out for the interests of teachers, now have total and complete control of the education system.
TEACHERS UNIONS: GOOD OR BAD?
Teachers need the same protections most other employees are afforded. But anything can be taken too far. Strength in numbers is a good thing until that strength becomes so strong it is unchecked. School is supposed to be for children and many parents worry that teachers unions have become so powerful that school now exists primarily to service the needs of teachers.