June 1, 2018

Overview of the History and Status of Teachers’ Unions

By Kelly Robson | Kaitlin Pennington | Juliet Squire

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Teachers’ unions are a powerful force in local, state, and federal politics, but Janus vs. the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) could change that. At the heart of this case is a key source of union revenue: agency fees.

Public sector unions, including teachers’ unions, collect revenue from the professionals they represent. From members, they collect membership dues that can be used for a wide range of activities, including political advocacy. In 22 states and D.C., unions can collect so-called “agency fees” from nonmembers. These fees are typically less than full membership dues and enable workers to opt out of supporting unions’ political activities while still supporting unions’ collective bargaining activities that benefit all workers.

If the Court overturns long-standing precedent and rules mandatory agency fees unconstitutional, it will likely have far-reaching effects on unions’ finances, and subsequently, on their power and influence. But to fully understand the potential effects of the Janus decision, it is necessary to first understand the history and current context in which teachers’ unions are operating. We created this slide deck to ensure that sector leaders, reporters, and commentators have a reliable resource to access this key information.     

The deck begins with an overview of the history of public and private sector unions dating back to the early 1900s. It then provides a summary of the history and current status of teachers’ unions specifically: major successes related to collective bargaining, controversy and criticism surrounding their increasing political activities, and their response to the increasing accountability in federal education legislation. We then offer current data and information on the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, including membership data, financial data, a description of their organizational structure and the services they provide, and an overview of recent activities including teacher strikes and walkouts. We conclude the deck by summarizing the Janus case and its potential impacts on teachers’ unions and offering questions yet to be answered about the future of teachers’ unions post-Janus.

This analysis offers an accurate and objective set of information to those wanting to inform their understanding of this historic case.  

Download the full slide deck here, or read it in the viewer below.

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