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Teachers Value Their Unions, Survey Shows. But Is That Enough for Them to Keep Paying?

Teachers who do not belong to their unions see value in the organizations, but still say they would opt out of paying mandatory fees if given the choice, a new survey says.

Yet the survey also shows that most teachers don't know about the impending Supreme Court decision that could remove the mandate for those fees.

The survey was done by Educators for Excellence, an advocacy group for teachers that has often clashed with teachers' unions. E4E is releasing the full results of its survey in August, but put out the results on the unions in advance of the Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 Supreme Court decision, which is expected in the coming weeks. At stake in the case are the so-called "agency" or "fair-share" fees that public-employee unions in 22 states charge to workers who choose not to join but are still represented in collective bargaining. The justices are widely expected to rule against the unions.


See also: Are Teachers' Unions on the Brink of Demise?


The survey was conducted online this spring among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 traditional public school and public charter school teachers. An independent research firm administered the survey.

Eighty-five percent of all teachers said that unions are essential or important—among union members, that number jumped to 94 percent, and 74 percent of non-union members said the same. A similar majority of all teachers said that without collective bargaining, the working conditions and salaries of teachers would be much worse—and 78 percent of non-union members agreed with that statement. Most nonmembers also agreed that without unions, teachers would be vulnerable to school politics or administrators who abuse their power.

Still, nearly 60 percent of non-union members who live in states that require agency fees said they would opt out of paying those fees if the Supreme Court rules against the union. Meanwhile, about 80 percent of teachers said they would actively opt into their union if they were not automatically enrolled. 

The unions have been bracing for membership and revenue losses in the aftermath of an unfavorable ruling—the National Education Association has projected a loss of 307,000 members over two years, along with a $50 million budget cut. The unions have warned that an unfavorable ruling could increase the number of what they call free-riders—teachers who don't pay any dues or fees, but are still benefitting from the union's collective bargaining and representation. 

The survey shows that non-union members do think it's important for unions to bargain for salaries and benefits:

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 12.53.35 PM.png

Interestingly, 78 percent of all teachers said they have heard not much or nothing about the Janus case. Almost half of union members said they have heard nothing at all about the case. Of course, the Janus ruling would only affect fewer than half of states, but this number is still notable, considering that local teachers' unions have been working on campaigns to get their members to recommit to the union for the past year.

In a recent Ed Week interview, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten touted the work unions had been doing to prepare for the decision.

Janus is "not an existential threat, because people have planned for it," she said. "There have been recommit campaigns throughout the country, knowing full well that what the right wing will do as soon as they get the decision they want is ... try to get people to opt out of their unions. We'll see what happens. It will be a bumpy ride, but I am completely inspired by the work that has gone on in preparing for this."

For more survey results, view the whole report

Chart via Educators for Excellence

(Correction: A previous version of this report misstated the official name of Educators for Excellence.) 

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