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Teacher Unions: Pros & Cons

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, current and prospective educators and school support staff will learn about the possible advantages and disadvantages of joining a teacher union.

The Role of Teacher Unions

The presence of teacher unions remains one of the most highly contested topics in education today. A teacher union exists as a liaison between teachers and the Board of Education. It works on behalf of teachers and school support staff to negotiate pay increases and fair working conditions.

Some states, classified as right to work states, allow employees to opt out of joining or paying dues to a union. Other states, classified as forced union states, do not offer this option, and employees are required to pay union dues according to their teaching contract.

Let's take a further look at some of the pros and cons of membership in a teacher union.

Pros

Proponents of teacher unions have various reasons for supporting their existence. Here are some common reasons that many educators say they value the support of their union representatives.

Unions Negotiate Contracts

Many people argue that without teacher unions, school boards would have little incentive to make salary scales competitive for teachers. Typically, the school board and teacher union meet annually to update the negotiated agreement for school district educators. Union representatives work hard to ensure teachers have fair pay and benefits, appropriate working hours and conditions, and proper appraisal standards.

Unions Enforce Contracts

Let's say you submit paperwork to your school principal to request a personal day one week in advance, as required by the negotiated agreement. Your principal denies your request because student testing is taking place that day. You scan your contract for the official guidelines for taking a personal day, but the technical verbiage is difficult to understand.

With a quick phone call or email to your school's union representative, you quickly learn that your principal has no grounds to deny your personal day request. You are not requesting the day off on the day before or after a holiday, and you submitted the request far enough in advance. Your union representative will now likely set up a meeting with you and your principal to reinforce your right to take the personal day.

Unions Offer Job Protection

Unions make it very difficult for one of their teacher members to be fired or even reprimanded without due cause. If a teacher finds out that he or she is being formally reprimanded, the union will step in to support that teacher and investigate the issue.

A union representative will be present at any disciplinary meetings involving the teacher, and will use his or her in-depth knowledge to communicate with administration on behalf of the teacher.

If the school administrators did not follow the proper protocol, the union representative will use that misconduct to bring the disciplinary action against the teacher into question.

Unions Provide Discounts

One of the obvious benefits of joining a teacher union is the wealth of benefits that are typically included. Usually, being a union member can get you perks like discounted gym memberships; reduced car, apartment, and hotel rental rates; inexpensive movie and theme park tickets; and even assistance with buying a house.

Additionally, union members can often get supplemental life insurance and optional membership in a sick-leave bank. For some people, those benefits alone are enough of a reason to join their union.

Cons

Opponents also have valid reasons for their disapproval of teacher unions. Here are some reasons why many educators choose not to support their local union.

Unions Help Bad Teachers

Some hard-working educators feel that teacher unions give tenured teachers a poor reputation. This is because when there is a dispute about a teacher's job performance, even if it is a valid one, teacher unions will often side with the teacher.

Furthermore, the formal process for firing a 'bad' teacher, which is often negotiated by the union, can often take several years. For those reasons, many people see unions as a barrier to effective education reform.

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