How Teachers See Their Unions
by Scott Bittle
The ferocity of the fight over public employee unions, and teachers unions in particular, has reached a fever pitch as governors and labor groups square off over tight budgets, layoffs and bargaining rights in multiple states. The fight has serious implications for education reform, and some argue for the status of teachers.
Several national surveys have shown public opposition to cutting collective bargaining rights, but also support for reducing public employee benefits. But what about teachers themselves? How do they see unions?
When we last examined this in our
Supporting Teacher Talent survey with Learning Point Associates, we found that eight in 10 teachers said "without collective bargaining, the working conditions and salaries of teachers would be much worse." And 51 percent of teachers "strongly" agreed with this.
But a lot of teachers' views about unions weren't purely economic – they also see the union as protection against other problems they face. Eight in 10 said teachers facing unfair charges from parents or students would have nowhere to turn without the union, and just as many said that teachers would be vulnerable to "school politics or administrators who abuse their power." In both cases, about half of teachers "strongly agreed," a significant indication of how intensely they feel about this.
But there was criticism of unions as well, with two-thirds of teachers saying the union "sometimes fights to protect teachers who really should be out of the classroom." About 22 percent said they "strongly agreed."
Across the board, there was a split between younger and older teachers, with "Generation Y" teachers less likely to "strongly agree" on the benefits of unions – but also somewhat less likely to agree that the union protects problem teachers.