One decision that a new teacher is faced with is whether or not they should join a teachers union. In some cases, it is actually not a choice at all. In eighteen states, it is essentially legal to force teachers to support a union by requiring teachers who are not members to pay a fee to a union as a condition of continued employment. Those states include Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, & Wisconsin.
In the other states, it becomes an individual choice as to whether you want to join a teachers union or not. There are many valid reasons that you should consider joining a union. Those can include:
- Teachers unions can provide legal protection and advice. In today's sue happy society; this protection alone can be worth becoming a member.
- Teachers unions provide support, guidance, and advice. Most teachers unions have a helpline that its members can call to seek advice in a variety of areas.
- Teachers unions allow you a voice in hot educational trends, debates, and topics that you feel strongly about.
- Joining a teacher union builds power to the bargaining position of the union for contract and labor negotiations.
- Teachers unions provide several discount program opportunities including life insurance benefits, credit card opportunities, mortgage assistance, etc.
- Teachers unions often provide terrific professional development opportunities for members.
Even if you live in a state where they cannot legally force your hand to join a union, you may find yourself being pressured to do so by other teachers. This is because teachers unions are a powerful entity. There is strength in numbers. The more members a union has, the bigger voice they have.
Which Union Should You Join?
Deciding what union you join is typically dictated by the district in which you work. Typically when you join a local union, you join the state and national affiliate with that union. Most districts are entrenched with one affiliate and so it can be tough to join another one. The two biggest national unions include:
- National Education Association (NEA) – The largest educational union in the United States. They are typically referred to as democratic in their ideology. It was formed in 1857.
- American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – The second largest educational union in the United States. They are typically referred to as republican in their ideology. It was formed in 1916.
Do I have to be a Teacher to Join a Teachers Union?
Most teachers unions offer membership to a variety of roles within schools. Those include teachers (including higher education faculty/staff), administrators, educational support professionals (custodians, maintenance, bus drivers, cafeteria personnel, administrative assistants, school nurses, etc.), retired teachers, college students in education programs, and substitute teachers.
Why Wouldn’t I Want to Join a Teachers Union?
In states where you are not essentially forced to join a teachers union, then it becomes an individual choice as to whether you want to join a union or not. There are several reasons that an individual may not choose to join a union. Those include:
- Not agreeing with union politics. As mentioned before, the NEA is typically a democratic association while the AFT is typically a republican association. Sometimes individuals do not agree with those political stances or a particular stance the union takes on an issue that often does not have anything to do with education. Teachers who have political views contrary to the positions taken by unions, they will not want to support the union.
- Union fees are expensive. Most teachers are already cashed strapped, particularly first year teachers. Every little bit can help, so many teachers feel like the value of joining a union and its benefits are not worth the monetary costs.
- They don’t need it. Some teachers simply believe that they do not need the services provided by a teachers union.