Why Teachers Join Unions
In forced-dues states, most teachers find it a pretty easy decision to join the union. After all, teachers have to pay union dues anyway, so they may as well join the union and get whatever benefits of membership are offered. In the states in which teachers are not forced to pay dues to a union to get or keep their job, the unions have to entice, cajole, trick, and pressure teachers to join the union.
One of the ways teachers unions develop their membership in the least unionized states is to capture young, impressionable college students who are training to be teachers. A young teacher from an A-grade state told us that when she entered her mandatory student-teaching period, her teachers college strongly advised her to obtain professional liability insurance. This insurance would cover her in the case that she was sued by one of their pupil’s families during her student-teaching period. During student-teaching orientation, teachers union representatives offered all student teachers a discounted union membership rate, which included this liability coverage, and many of them joined. The takeaway message was “Welcome to the teaching profession—meet your teachers union!” Once student teachers join the union, the teachers union simply works to keep them as members when they take full-time teaching jobs.
A veteran teacher who worked in a number of A-grade states says that teacher union representatives pressured her to join the union throughout her whole career. Again, the union reps presented liability insurance as a major reason why she should join the union. They told her that if a student sued her, the union would provide her with a lawyer and she would be protected by liability insurance—but only if she was a member of the teachers union. Otherwise, she would be on her own. The unions were so successful at planting this fear in her that she always felt exposed to liability and uneasy about not joining the union. Of course, the states could fix this issue by providing liability insurance coverage to all teachers, but it hasn’t happened yet. Teachers can also purchase this insurance inexpensively from other sources, but teachers unions have been very effective at presenting themselves as the sole source for reasonably priced liability insurance. Liability insurance is also available to teachers who join the Association of American Education (AAE), the largest national nonunion professional teachers organization, for a fraction of the cost of union dues, but many teachers are not aware of this option.
Teachers unions are also effective at using sorority-style recruiting to sell the union as a social club for teachers. One teacher in an A-grade state recalls that union representatives were present with lots of fun giveaway items at the events that she was required to attend as a first-year teacher: “Here’s a mug, and come join this fun club where you will meet new friends and share your experiences—the local teachers union!”
In states that permit collective bargaining over teachers, teachers unions have much more control over schools and are much more intrusive in their recruiting. A young teacher who has worked in several B-grade right-to-work states recalls that in Arkansas and Alabama, she was under intense pressure to join the teachers union. As a new teacher in Arkansas, union representatives were present at the orientation meetings for new teachers. She was directed to meet her school representative, who explained all the benefits she would receive as a union member and signed her up for membership and for her dues to be automatically deducted from her paycheck. When this teacher realized a few month later how much dues she was paying each month for union membership, and considered how little she benefited from the union, she decided to quit. But to do this, she had to visit the same in-school union representative and explain to her why she was quitting the union before her name could be taken off the union rolls. She recalls that this was a very intimidating process for her.
When this same young teacher moved to a school in Alabama a few years later, she was firm in her decision not to join the union. Shortly after she arrived at her new school, she was teaching a lesson to her kindergarten class when two other teachers barged into her classroom. Was there a fire or an emergency that demanded her immediate attention? No, these teachers were representatives of the teachers union. They proceeded to bully this young teacher in front of her class, urging her to join the union and help them achieve “100 percent participation” in the school. This teacher, experienced in the ways of union representatives by now, bravely refused. But although her experience of union intimidation may be typical, she’s the exception in staying out of the union—when pressured, teachers tend to join unions.
Read an excerpt from the introduction of Shadowbosses on Mallory’s facebook page.