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Teachers' Unions

Under state and local labor laws, teachers’ rights are represented through collective bargaining units known as teachers’ unions. Teachers’ unions generally represent the needs of a collective group of educators on matters including wages or compensation, hours of work, job functions, and other aspects. As with all unions, there can be strength in numbers. A union can help teachers with job security and dealing with school districts. Of course, the value of a union comes down to personal opinion. This section provides a wealth of information about teachers’ unions -- such as how to join a union, how to resolve conflicts, and information on state and local laws.

Teachers' Unions and Collective Bargaining: Overview

A union is a bargaining unit made up of a group of professionals that share a "community of interest." Teachers may belong to multiple bargaining units or unions. Teachers unions may be nationwide, statewide, or local. Teachers do not have a constitutional right to collectively bargain. There may be some limitation on the activities of teachers' unions where states have prohibited collective bargaining among public employees. However, even in these states teachers may participate in national unions on issues unrelated to collective bargaining.

However, the First Amendment provides that people have the right to peaceably assemble, which includes the right to join a union and to participate in activities other than collective bargaining where that is prohibited. In addition to collectively bargaining unions may also lobby on behalf of teachers with state and federal lawmakers for adequate funding and pro-education policies. The National Education Association (NEA) is the largest teachers union and is the largest bargaining unit in the country. The NEA and other unions may negotiate wages or contracts, lobby for academic freedom, establish rules for acquiring tenure or promotion, mediate grievances, manage retirement and pension benefits, and protect the vacation and sick leave rights of members.

Joining a Teachers' Union

In addition to potential prohibitions on public employees collectively bargaining, other employees may be ineligible to participate in a union, even where state prohibitions do not exist. A "bargaining unit" must be made up of those who share a "community of interests." This means that the members should share common interest in issues such as:

  • wages or compensation
  • hours of work
  • employment benefits
  • supervision
  • qualifications
  • training and skills
  • job functions
  • contact with other employees
  • integration of work functions with other employees

As such, certain employees may be excluded from a bargaining unit. Supervisors and managers are frequently ineligible for union membership. States may have introduced additional limitations on unionization intended to prevent the over-proliferation of bargaining units, defining bargaining units, or otherwise directing union activities.

Where teachers wish to organize a new union, or make adjustments to an existing union, they must follow the direction of the National Labor Relations Act and the relevant state laws. If disputes arise regarding union representation, many states require the parties to resolve their dispute within the public employment relations board within the state. The labor board is also responsible for certifying a union as the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit.