Organizing Tools - Union 101
Let's Talk about Unions
Looking for a way to start the conversation around membership? We’ve created tools and explainers about union membership that you can send to potential members.
How to use this toolkit
Learn about the power of educators coming together through their union.
Share our conversation starters to help potential and existing members understand key union terms.
Use prompts to schedule follow up conversations that deepen relationships and connections.
When educators are respected, appreciated, heard, and have the resources we need, we can give students our very best. NEA members come together through our union to win for our students, our schools, and ourselves.
By joining together, we have more power to advocate for:
Better pay and benefits
Better working conditions
Better learning conditions for our students
Spread the Word
Use these prompts to start a conversation with someone following an initial contact. You can also change them a bit and use them to reach out to someone you haven't heard from in a while!
Share These Messages
On Text Message
Hi <FIRSTNAME>, it’s <YOURNAME> from <AFFILIATENAME>! It was great talking to you about our union. I know there are a lot of new terms to learn while you consider membership. Check out our union glossary to get started! <LINK>
It’s <YOURNAME> from <AFFILIATENAME>! It was great meeting you at <EVENTNAME>. I’m following up to let you know a little bit more about our union.
Our members impact meaningful change for educators and students. Together, we have successfully raised educator wages, improved working conditions, supported student loan forgiveness, and made sure the voices of educators are heard.
I’d love to talk to you more about our union and what we can achieve together. Are you free for a quick chat sometime this month?
If you want to change something at your school, in your district, in your state or even nationally, your union is your way to make that change a reality. Use these online tools to help explain the power of union membership.
Share these images to let educators know that there are tools to help them understand union membership!
Talk About Our Wins
Sharing these local and statewide victories shows educators that union membership makes a real and daily difference in their schools. We have identified wins for every state, showing that our power is not limited by geography or political party.
Share These Messages
On Social Media
NEA educators deliver real change. We meet with school administrators and lawmakers from both political parties to make sure our voices are being heard and respected. Find out how we are creating change in all 50 states: nea.org/win
By banding together, our members impact meaningful change for educators and students.
Together, we have successfully raised educator wages, improved working conditions, supported student loan forgiveness, and made sure the voices of educators are actually heard.
There are thousands educators just like us across the state and millions of educators across the country working together to accomplish things one teacher, one bus driver, one janitor, or even one district can’t.
Together we are stronger. Together we are heard. If you are interested in the union, but are unsure about joining, I would love to connect and answer any questions you have.
On Text Message
Hi there! This year, educators came together for schools, students, and each other. See how we made a difference in all 50 states: nea.org/win
Winning in Every State
Across the country, we are winning dedicated planning time, protecting benefits, increasing salaries, and improving the daily lives of educators and students.
How are educators creating change in your state? Click below to find out!
Alabama Custodians Win Higher Pay
“Grown people need grown-people pay,” says Tavares Ward, head custodian at Charles A. Brown Elementary School in Birmingham, where custodians, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers got a 12 percent pay raise in October, thanks to fierce pressure by the Alabama Education Association. “If it were not for them, we wouldn’t have got what we got,” says Ward. “It was a slugfest! It’s not like (school officials) wanted to give it to us.” Even with the raise, Birmingham’s custodians start out around $13 an hour, or $18,000 a year. “Young people just aren’t going to do this. They can flip burgers for $15 an hour,” says Ward. Meanwhile, the work of custodians and other education support professionals has gotten more difficult and more dangerous during the pandemic. “They say we’re essential workers. Well, treat us like we’re essential,” he says. “Treat us like you need us.”
Anchorage Educators Win Salary Increases and Other Benefits
In early 2022, the Anchorage Education Association wrapped up negotiations with their district. Through the new contract, educators won salary increases, a simplified salary schedule, a better retirement system, and clarified expectations relating to grading, educator planning time, and meeting duration and frequency. “The collaborative process we engaged in was worth the effort, and the result is an agreement that the AEA bargaining team whole-heartedly endorses and that will support increasing student outcomes,” Anchorage Education Association President Corey Aist said. The three-year agreement salary increases are 2% for the first and third years. The second-year is a 1.5% raise and a $1,000 bonus.
Arizona Education Association Voices Heard at State Capitol
"The Arizona Legislature passed a bi-partisan budget in the early morning hours that invests over $1 billion in state public schools."
Arizona educator advocacy is to thank for this historic victory, says AEA President Marisol Garcia: “Let’s be clear, that we had to fight for every dollar in this budget that started with us asking for $505 million and getting $526 million added to the base level. AEA members took time from their summer break to sit in day-long committee meetings and we stayed at the Capitol all through the night to ensure our students got the funding they deserved.”
In addition to the increased education funding, legislators removed the expansion to the state’s private school tuition tax credit the budget."
Carol Williams-Rankin, a second-generation bus driver for students with special needs, noticed that after 30 years of driving, her hours were cut from 6 down to 5. "My route actually is more than 5 hours," she said. "Some days I may get in 30 minutes later or 20 minutes over some time, maybe an hour over." When Rankin let supervisors know she was working overtime, she met resistance. She called AEA, and got her UniSev Director involved. While the district eventually agreet to pay Rankin and the other drivers for the actual time it took for each route, AEA discovered an even bigger issue. Several drivers, including Rankin, had been with the district for more than 25 years, but had stalled on step seven of the salary schedule.
Employees were due a more than $4,000 raise and should be sitting at the top of the schedule. After discussing the matter with the district office and the transportation department heads, the district moved the drivers up to the correct salary for the upcoming school year. Rankin says having someone in her corner made it easier to continue to push for what she knew was right, and she encourages everyone to join AEA. Without them, "nothing would have been resolved. We wouldn't have found out about teh steps. We wouldn't have been paid for our overtime. It felt good when we found out that our hard work did pay off."
In 2022, California began its ambitious, $4 billion transition to full-service community schools. In May, the state Board of Education approved $649 million in grants to help schools adopt the community schools model, and in November approved $58 million in contracts to build a network of support for community schools. The NEA and the California Teachers Association are key leaders on this contract support and will provide a framework and the expert support needed to expand the number of community schools in California for years to come.
The funds mean schools like Sycamore Junior High School in Anaheim that created a partnership with a local food bank will get more support to grow. Sycamore Junior High’s monthly farmers market has been a lifeline to the community, where neighbors can pick up fresh fruit, vegetables, and dairy free of charge. With this new funding stream, NEA can help create more community schools like Sycamore Junior High across the state.
“We're looking to serve our children and our families holistically because we know they can't leave who they are at the door,” Sycamore’s community school coordinator Araceli Huerta told local radio station KCRW. “We want to make sure that we're creating the conditions they need to thrive."
Alamosa Educators Win Most Substantial Raise in 20 Years
The Alamosa Education Association reached an agreement with their school district, winning a 8% raise for both teachers and ESPs – the most substantial raise for district educators in roughly 20 years. The contract, negotiated on Zoom with over 90 educators in attendance, also removed co-pays for those insured under the district’s new benefits package.
“We did our homework,” says AEA Co-president Myra Manzanares. “We came to the negotiations with a lot of information in hand and we gave a very good presentation to administration, including where the resources were in the district budget for the raise. With this agreement, we feel valued and heard.”
Mental Health Supports and More Pass Connecticut Legislature
Connecticut educators advocated for the resources their schools needed, and won big. In May 2022, the state legislature passed bills prohibiting dual teaching, increasing mental health supports in schools, and more—along with a $24 billion annual state budget that makes new investments in child care, mental health, and social services. The budget provides additional funding for schools, including money for indoor air quality, as well as important benefits for teachers and relief for hundreds of thousands of children and their families.
“We fought hard for these measures, and they would not have passed if legislators hadn’t heard from us directly about why they matter,” said says CEA President Kate Dias. “Our leaders and staff testified, our members called, emailed, and visited their senators and representatives throughout the session to let them know how important these bills were, and these victories demonstrate that teacher voice makes a huge difference. When we speak up for what our students and colleagues need, when we are persistent, and when we stand together, we prevail.”
Delaware educators took action to support gun safety measures in their state, hoping to prevent atrocities like those that happened in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York. Their efforts led to the passage of six gun safety related bills, including measures to ban the sale of assault-style weapons; increase the age to purchase most fire arms; strengthen background checks. Members of the Delaware State Education Association were inside the ceremonial office when Governor John Carney signed the bills, a recognition of the importance of members’ advocacy.
Polk County Educators Win Raise and Health Insurance Support
Educators in Polk County ratified a new contract, securing raises and increases in bonuses for teachers, paraeducators, school counselors, and educational support personnel. The district also agreed to cover $40 in additional health insurance costs for employees.
“I am excited about the direction the school district is going financially in recognizing the hard work and tireless dedication that our teachers, school counselors, instructional/non instructional staff, as well as, support staff are providing to students of Polk County and our stakeholders in the midst of this pandemic,” said Polk County School Counselor, Deldrick Leonard. Leonard will receive a raise and increases in bonuses due to the new union contract.
Fulton County Offers Financial Incentives for Special Education Teachers
Fulton County School District is offering hiring incentives of up to $7,500 for paraprofessionals and full-time teachers with a background in special education. They are also trying to keep existing educators by offering an incentive of up to $2,500. These incentives come amidst a staff shortage, both in Fulton County and across the nation. The Georgia Association of Educators advocates that the best way to address this shortage is through monetary incentives like those in Fulton County, as well as respect for educator time and ensuring manageable workloads.
State Legislature Ends Salary Compression for Experienced Educators
Hawaii educators won an end to salary compression for experienced educators, positively impacting salaries, pay scale schedules, and improving social security earnings. Hawaii State Teacher Association President Osa Tui, Jr. shares why this advocacy win is important, not just for the educators themselves, but for their schools and communities: “Right now, there are not enough students going into teaching, so we hope that some of our seasoned educators will stick around and inspire some of our students here at home to go into the profession.”
The bill will increase the salaries of nearly 9,000 Hawaii educators from anywhere between $7,700 to $26,000, depending on their years of experience, according to HSTA. This would help to keep veteran educators staffed and incentivize new teachers to apply for jobs. It also addresses shortages of between $3,000 and $10,000 a year for more than 4,000 special education classroom and Hawaiian language immersion teachers, as well as those who teach at schools that are challenging to staff due its remote locations.
Educators in Idaho had a historic victory this year, helping pass a legislation package that included an increase in education funding, teacher and school employee raises, and an increased investment into health care coverage. Educators in rural Idaho or high-poverty schools could also receive a financial incentive to stay in the profession.
The legislature also passed additional funding for school lunches, with the goal of continuing the universal, free meal programs launched during the pandemic.
Illinois Educators Help Enshrine the Right to Collective Bargaining
In Illinois, voters enshrined the right to collective bargaining in the state constitution, making Illinois the first state in the nation to essentially ban so-called “right to work” laws that weaken unions. Illinois Education Association members worked hard to educate members of their community about the value of the measure. In the month before the election, high school teacher Gabriel Gancarz contacted roughly 1,000 voters by phone and by text.
“We're about to become only the fourth state in America to make collective bargaining rights part of our constitution.”
Lawrence Township Metropolitan School District, the ninth largest and one of the fastest growing school districts in Indiana, announced an agreement with it’s union the Lawrence Education Association that focused on educator recruitment and retention.
LEA's agreement includes:
4.75% base increase,
one-time $2,000 stipend,
an additional $500 base salary increase for teachers with two-plus years with the district,
50% increase for the master’s supplement,
increase starting teacher salary from $46,420 to $48,000.
The United Teachers of Wichita won a contract with a 1.75 percent salary schedule improvement, steps, tracks and longevity for years of experience, additional education and years of service and bonuses for eligible employees.
The Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) voted to ratify a new contract approving a salary raise for Jefferson County Public School teachers.
Included in the deal is a 4% pay increase for all teachers in the 2022-23 school year. There will also be continuity stipends of up to $1,000 and an additional stipend for those working at specific schools.
The board also approved the addition of Mental Health Practitioners to the teacher salary schedule.
LAE’s biggest win of 2022 is ACT 392, which gives teachers a 45 minute, uninterrupted, planning period, or the weekly equivalent of minutes. We partnered with Senator Katrina Jackson on SB 128, which was introduced at the Legislative Session in 2021, however, it went into effect as ACT 392, July 1, 2022.
Together we fought hard to get this bill that we authored, passed into law for our members. Not only that, but it was the collective effort of LAE leadership, members, and staff. Together, we showed up at the Capitol, gave testimony on the house and senate education committee meetings, and logged countless calls and emails to legislators to make this law possible.
The Portland Education Association was able to negotiate a contract that invests in educators and designed to help attract new educators and keep veteran educators in the district.
Additionally, the work day of educators has also been extended so that it will now include a collective 25 minutes before and after the instructional work day, instead of just 15 minutes before the start of the day. Twenty of those minutes will be flexibly scheduled by school leadership teams to meet student needs before or after the school day. The contract identifies an additional two hours per month of time that can be scheduled for teachers to collaborate with colleagues, support students or be used for family engagement. And it establishes leadership teams with stipends in all schools whose focus is to create a formal structure to collaborate on advancing teaching and learning in each building.
A Comprehensive, Union-Led Plan for Maryland Schools
It’s been years in the making, but Maryland educators and students are finally poised to get the schools and services that they need.
Called the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” this multi-billion dollar investment in Maryland public schools—led by the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA)—will increase educator pay and school funding, lead to the hiring of 15,000 new educators (including behavioral health professionals and paraprofessionals) and convert nearly one-third of Maryland schools into community schools where students and families get the specific academic, nutrition, medical and dental services they need through community partnerships. It also invests in early education.
MSEA members have been fighting for these investments for years. Indeed, thousands of members marched through the streets of Annapolis in 2018 to demonstrate their support. In 2020, Governor Hogan vetoed the blueprint, but in 2021 the General Assembly overrode his veto, making it law.
Educators in Malden, MA went on strike after lengthy negotiations with the school district stalled, but were able to reach an agreement that created a new scale for support staff with all ESPs receiving nearly a $9,000 increase immediately.
Massachusett’s students, families, public schools and public colleges won an unprecedented victory this year with the passage of the Fair Share Amendment. Public education and transportation in the commonwealth will receive billions of vital dollars in additional annual funding, allowing for investments that will benefit every resident of the state.
The Lincoln Park Education Association organized and got t district leaders to reopen a five-year contract two years in for salary and benefits reconsideration. The new contract includes a new top-step maximum for teachers witha Master’s degree, a two-step jump for everyone, increases in dental and vision coverage, and a 40% boost in Schedule B payments They’re proving how to recruit and retain employees during a shortage by paying them what they’re worth. The district operates an autism program servicing 15 school districts with 25 classrooms, and despite being in a high shortage area the program is fully staffed with certified educators.
“If you look at programs similar to ours, they have long-term subs in those ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) rooms because that’s one of the hardest special education certifications to fill. We have 100% certified staff, and that’s because of the contract.”
Educators Help Pro-Education Candidates Win Statewide
Minnesota will have pro-public education majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate, as well as former teachers in the governor’s and state auditor’s office again. The results of Election 2022 show the impact of thousands of educators getting involved all across the state.
Education Minnesota members across the state got involved with this election because they knew public education and collective bargaining were on the ballot. More than 150 members served as local union GOTV leaders and hundreds more served as worksite action leaders, planning fun events to encourage voting and talking to their colleagues about why this election was so important.
On Nov. 8, Minnesota reelected our teacher governor, Tim Walz, and Minnesota’s math teacher, State Auditor Julie Blaha, as well as Attorney General Keith Ellison and Secretary of State Steve Simon. The Minnesota House retained its pro-public education, pro-union majority and the Minnesota Senate was flipped to a pro-public education, pro-union majority as well.
State teachers union reacts to passage of the long awaited teacher pay raise bill
A huge sigh of relief from state educators after the House and Senate finally signed off on pay raises.
When Mississippi teachers return to the classrooms in the fall, one less stressor will be how they will manage amid rising inflation. Both legislative chambers approved House Bill 520, providing classroom teachers with an average pay increase of $5,100. Classroom assistants will receive an additional $2,000.
“We were excited to watch that vote happen knowing that we were one step closer to making this a reality,” said Antonio Castanon Luna. The Mississippi Association of Educators executive director said the state has finally made an investment in teachers, students and the future economy.
“Many MAE members have to have second and third jobs to make ends meet,” said Castanon Luna. “This salary increase is an important support to ensure that folks don’t have to spread themselves too thin and can remain in the education profession.” The teachers union represents more than 8,000 educators. Officials credit its membership and the more than 100 educators who spent the past week at the Capitol meeting with lawmakers.
“This has been years coming and it’s because of the strong advocacy of educators all across the state,” added Castanon Luna. “We see this as an investment in our future and in the present of Mississippi.
Columbia Board of Education approves salary increases, collective bargaining agreement
The Columbia Board of Education voted to increase pay for all district employees and approved a collective bargaining agreement that ups base pay for teachers.
The board voted 6-0 to approve the items during a morning work session.
The collective bargaining agreement reached with the Columbia Missouri National Education Association will increase teachers' base salary by $1,200, making the new base $40,250. There were increases for all employees, with some employee groups getting raises of more than 11%. Classroom aides and custodians will get the biggest percentage increases.
Inadequate staffing has been affecting Montana Federation of Public Employees (MFPE) for several years—and that includes Helena dispatchers who have seen workloads increase as employee burnout surges. As a result, there’s fewer people to do more work, which not only impacts these MFPE members but also the safety of their communities.
Undeterred, MFPE member dispatchers in Helena took matters into their own hands earlier this year—and the results have been significant. Joining together through their local union, city dispatchers worked with MFPE Field Consultant Megan Casey to bring concerns and solutions to the city manager in early February. Members believed that if something was going to be done about retention and recruitment, wages had to be addressed.
After discussions, the City Manager agreed, and the result was a significant increase in wages for current dedicated employees. These increases are an essential step towards addressing the call center’s staffing crisis. As a result of MFPE members uniting to address a serious worker shortage, the City of Helena is now be able to advertise a level of compensation sure to attract more new dispatchers and retain current dispatchers, who will always answer the call and ensure the right people get to you in any emergency.
In the three years since the Nebraska State Education Association received a $335,120 NEA Great Public Schools grant, the number of high school students in its Educators Rising program—which supports students interested in education-related careers—increased from 40 to more than 600. NSEA President Jenni Benson is most proud of the fact that nearly 40 percent of them are from communities of color. “Equity should start in education,” Benson says.
“Teachers of color should be supported, and students should feel like they belong. It is important to see people who look like you in important positions. And if you see success in the form of a great teacher or administrator who looks like you, you are more likely to go on to be successful.” Although 30 percent of Nebraska’s K-12 students are People of Color, 96 percent of teachers are White. NSEA has also prioritized its Aspiring Educators program, for college students, and its Next Generation Educators program, for early-career educators, with a particular focus on students of color and new teachers.
The state association supports these groups by fostering membership engagement, providing professional development, and offering mentorship opportunities and classroom resources.
Nevada Educators Elect Educators, Protect Human Rights
NSEA members showed their power at the polls in November. At the state level, not only did NSEA member Selena La Rue Hatch, a Democrat, win an Assembly seat from Washoe County (Reno), but she flipped her district from red to blue, providing a supermajority to Assembly Democrats. A
cross the state, seven NSEA members ran for office in November: five won, which means six NSEA/NEA members will be serving in office this year.
NSEA members also were integral in re-electing U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto—a critical win that will keep the Senate in Democrats’ control.
Meanwhile, with NSEA’s endorsement and support, the state’s voters overwhelmingly approved of a ballot measure that guarantees equality of rights for all Nevadans, and specifically forbids the state and any of its cities or counties from abridging those rights on account of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or disability.
In New Hampshire this spring, a bill modeled after Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law came to a screeching halt after NEA-New Hampshire (NEA-NH) members refused to be silent about the safety threat it posed to their students.
“Parents and teachers in New Hampshire have been working together for a long time to ensure our schools consistently provide what’s best for our children and their education,” said NEA-New Hampshire President Megan Tuttle, in May. “HB 1431 disregards these well-tended relationships, substituting them with rules that make our schools and classrooms less safe for every student, risk their mental and physical health and well-being, and undermine the state’s obligation to provide an adequate and inclusive education for all students.”
The bill first passed the state Senate and a House committee, before Gov. Chris Sununu promised to veto it. Consequently, a bipartisan majority in the state House rejected it. “We are glad to see that a bi-partisan majority of Representatives agree that HB 1431 would cause harm to vulnerable students, and undermine school efforts to create affirming, inclusive learning environments,” NEA-NH said, in a statement.
Thanks to New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) members who have been speaking up for years about how the edTPA prevents too many promising educators from finding their home in the classroom, state legislators voted this year to stop using the expensive, teacher-licensing exam.
A conditional veto of the legislation by Gov. Phil Murphy means new teachers will still be assessed, but starting in spring 2024, the assessments used will be selected by colleges and universities. For years, edTPA has “been a barrier to teacher recruitment,” says NJEA member Efrain Monterroso. “This is disproportionately true for first-generation college and minority students like myself. Many such students are left behind because of a meaningless score that does not represent them as a potential educator.”
Not only does the assessment require “countless hours,” he says, at the same time aspiring educators are toiling to meet the demands of student teaching assignments, it’s also prohibitively expensive. Removing the test “is a victory for all future educators,” says NJEA.
Voters across all parties—Democrats, Republicans and Independents— came together to approve a constitutional amendment that will bring a massive infusion of funds for early childhood and K-12 public education in New Mexico. The state legislature’s Legislative Finance Committee estimates that $84.6 million will go to public education and $126.9 million for early childhood education next year. At the same time, 54 NEA-NM recommended candidates won their elections—thanks to the hard work and support of union members who made thousands of phone calls to help their friends and neighbors make an informed vote in favor of education.
Persistence and Solidarity Pay Off for Long Island Teachers
It took more than a decade, but Hempstead teachers on Long Island, N.Y., finally got a pay raise this year—as they settled a new four-year contract in June that provides annual pay raises, bonuses, and other benefits.
“We’re glad that it’s over,” Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association President Nicole Brown told Newsday. “Finally, we broke the curse. It’s a huge milestone for us to finally move forward.” Although Hempstead teachers had been receiving step increases, their pay scale was frozen in 2010—and they were working under a contract that expired in 2013.
Under the new contract, a 1 percent increase was added to each step on the scale for those with at least a master’s degree, and teachers immediately received retroactive salary increases of up to 3 percent and a one-time bonus of $1,500. This coming year (2022-2023), they will get another $1,500 bonus and a salary raise of 2.75 percent. Then, in the last two years of the contract (FY23 and FY24), they will get 2.25 percent and 2 percent raises, respectively.
"Grow Your Own" Program Is Building North Carolina's Teacher Pipeline
In May, NEA President Becky Pringle visited North Carolina’s East Forsyth High School and saw firsthand how the teacher shortage might be addressed. “They’ve made systemic changes here to make sure students are excited to become teachers,” Pringle said. Since 1997, East Forsyth’s Teacher Cadet program has created a pipeline for high school students to become North Carolina’s future teachers.
Students enroll in Teacher Cadet I as a junior or senior. In Teacher Cadet II, they conduct field experiences in local schools. The program also partners with local colleges and universities to provide college-level instruction and to share information about teacher education programs. Since its inception, East Forsyth’s program has launched the teaching careers of more than 200 former cadets—and three-quarters of them teach in the same district they attended.
“We see so much burnout in teachers in the first five years and we don’t see that with the Teacher Cadets,” said Stephanie Wallace, a teacher at East Forsyth and a member of the Teacher Cadet Cadre. “They go into it eyes wide open."
Dickinson Negotiators Persist During a Tough Bargaining Year
At the end of the Dickinson Education Association (DEA)’s prolonged contract negotiations, union leader Dave Michaelson was reminded of how important it is to belong to your local association, he told North Dakota United (NDU). “I’ve believed that for 40 years. They’re the people who are going to go to bat for you,” he said. “Through all of this, I have found comfort and peace of mind at all three levels—the DEA, NDU, and NEA—knowing they were there for me… Every time we’d go to the negotiation table, those are the people trying to get the best for the masses, for all the teachers, not just one or two.”
This year was a tough year for contract negotiations, as Dickinson Public Schools are operating in a $1.3 million deficit. Nonetheless, DEA negotiators persisted, eventually compelling school board members to accept a fair counteroffer that respects DEA members. DEA negotiators also raised important points about the gap between teacher and administrator compensation in Dickinson, which—at a difference of $93,000 between the two groups—is the largest in North Dakota.
“If everyone is being asked to do what we’re asked to do, then we’re happy to do it. That’s not a question… the money is nice, but no teacher gets into it for the money,” said DEA negotiator Karl Leggate. “It’s about being appreciated and about being respected for what you’re doing, for the school, for the kids, and for the community.”
Columbus Educators Prove the Power of a Collective Voice
In August 2022, the new school year for Ohio’s largest school district started with nearly 4,500 teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, psychologists and other education professionals on strike for the first time since 1975.
Those educators had been working for months to secure a contract that would deliver the safe, properly maintained and fully-resourced schools Columbus students deserve. When the school board’s negotiators walked away from the bargaining table, just days before the teachers’ contract with the district was set to expire, the dedicated educators of the Columbus Education Association stood strong for their students and voted overwhelmingly to strike.
After three days on the picket lines, bolstered by an outpouring of support from parents, students, faith leaders, and community members from across central Ohio, Columbus Education Association’s bargaining team reached an agreement with district administration on a contract that ensures students will learn in climate-controlled buildings, with smaller class sizes, and with better access to art, music, and P.E. programs.
The contract agreement also includes a groundbreaking paid parental leave program for teachers, as well as 4 percent salary increases in each of the next three years to help attract and retain the high-quality educators Columbus students need.
Columbus Education Association members achieved a huge victory—not only for their students, but for public schools and workers around the state and country. Those union members demonstrated the power of a collective voice to demand better conditions for themselves and their students.
Although Oklahoma legislators are still spending too much time looking for solutions to problems that don’t exist, Oklahoma educators and students did achieve a few wins in the 2022 state legislature. One of the biggest wins was the legislature’s vote to create the Oklahoma Future Teacher Scholarship and Employment Program, which will provide up to $5,500 to defray the cost of tuition for future teachers in Oklahoma colleges
The bill also authorizes the Oklahoma State Regents to create incentive payments of up to $4,000 a year for newly certified teachers, for up to five years after their college graduation. The other big win was the bipartisan defeat of SB 1647, which would have created universal vouchers in Oklahoma. OEA joined a strong coalition that fought this bill, which eventually failed on the Senate floor.
In a show of support for their representatives at the bargaining table, more than 700 educators and parents—all dressed in red—attended the February 17th bargaining session between Eugene Education Association (EEA) and Eugene School District 4J. After months of back and forth, they hoped for an agreement that would support educators and students—and, a few minutes after midnight on February 18, they finally got one.
“For me, this is one of the best contract negotiations that we’ve had,” EEA Vice President and teacher Imelda Cortez told the Eugene Weekly. “I feel like a lot of the things that we were able to agree to are things that are going to benefit students in the long run.”
These things include more dedicated planning time for elementary, middle and high school teachers and more support for programs such as career education, special education, language immersion, and affinity groups for students of color. The contract also provides for 4 percent annual raises for teachers over the next three years. “That doesn't keep up with current inflation, however, also in the agreement, we've worked on many pieces that impact our student's learning conditions,” said EEA President Sabrina Gordon.
In 2022, full- and part-time faculty at Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg Area Community College voted decisively to form a union—specifically an affiliate of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. Their primary goal?
“It’s about getting respect and being treated as professionals,” says anthropologist and union leader Lewis Jones. “We didn’t have a voice. Shared governance was meaningless. We could say what we want, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to listen to it,” he says.
A few years ago, the college got rid of its mental-health counselors and student advisors, and then asked faculty to do that job. “They weren’t taking into account the needs of students,” recalls Jones. Meanwhile, part-time faculty members, like Jones, who teaches anthropology, are working at multiple institutions to make ends meet. “I have colleagues teaching at three or four institutions,” he says.
Even after years of service, for faculty members like Jones, “there’s no set schedule, there’s no set salary. Basically, you don’t know if you’re going to have a class to teach,” he says. When he heard about the unionization efforts, which began in 2019, he was ready to join. “Everything we’re doing [with the union], we’re doing for students. It’s about maintaining the integrity of education,” he says.
When the South Dakota legislature increased state education funding by 6 percent, the teachers and support staff in Meade successfully negotiated a 6 percent pay increase and a 4 percent increase in what schools pay for employee health insurance.
Educators in Hot Springs also negotiated for across the board pay increases. The starting teacher salary (previously the second lowest in the state) increased by 8.7 percent. The starting hourly wage for all classified staff rose from a previous low of $11.10 (depending on the job classification) to $13.75 per hour for all ESP positions, an increase of 25 percent for some classified staff. And all current employees received a pay increase of at least 6 percent.
The Association in Hot Springs negotiated an 8.7% increase in starting teacher pay from $37,250 (the second lowest starting salary in the state) to $40,500. The starting hourly wage for all classified staff rose from a previous low of $11.10 depending on the job classification to $13.75 per hour for all ESP positions, an increase of 25% for some classified staff. All current employees received a pay increase of at least 6%.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of educators who volunteers their time to knock doors, made phone calls, joined text banks, and gave financially, several Texas State Teachers Associations locals endorsed candidates in school board elections around the state and saw much success on Election Day.
Laredo United TSTA/NEA won four out of five races endorsed;
Association of Brownsville Educators won two out of three races endorsed;
Donna TSTA/NEA won one but lost two;
Education Austin won all five races endorsed and three ballot measures; and
Pflugerville Educators Association won seven of the eight ballot measures it supported.
TSTA is active in the political arena because they understand the connection between political power and officeholders’ decisions. When educators, students, and parents come together for public education, the whole community benefits.
Utah is the only permissive bargaining state where every school district meets and negotiates with local associations. The Utah Education Association attributes recent increases in teacher pay to collaborative local negotiations and success with the legislature
For instance, the Granite Education Association worked with the school board to negotiate:
a 4.25 percent cost of living increase (COLA). Starting salary for a first-year Granite teacher will rise to $52,824;
Increased planning time directed toward elementary school teachers to enhance instructional practices,
Three additional teacher planning and preparation days, and
Bus drivers and monitors in South Burlington will have a new, powerful voice to collectively bargain their pay and benefits, and the kinds of working conditions that will keep students and families safer.
Nearly all of the town’s 24 school bus drivers voted, amidst what they describe as the "hardest working conditions in years," to join South Burlington Educators Association, an affiliate of NEA and Vermont-NEA.
“We are proud to be a key part of our students’ day, as we know how important our role in making the schools operate really is,” school bus driver James Kirkpatrick told. “Being part of the union gives us the power to advocate for the transportation services our schools, our city and our students rely upon and deserve.”
Virginia approved a 5 percent salary increase for teachers and state-supported school staff positions each year over the next two school years, and a $1,000 bonus. The pay increase will help, but will only go so far. Teachers in the state make only 67 cents on the dollar compared to other professionals.
“In a year when the Commonwealth is experiencing a budget surplus, Virginians expect, and deserve, better,” said Dr. James J. Fedderman, President of the Virginia Education Association (VEA).
Educators in four school districts of the Evergreen state went on strike and won major pay increases and support for students. Many others didn’t end up on strike but fought hard for each other and their students as well. And they won. Big.
Educators sought smaller class sizes and student caseloads, wraparound services and resources for students, mental health support, and more competitive wages for teachers and education support professionals.
Educators in Kent, Seattle, Eatonville and Ridgefield proved that when educators fight for better working conditions, they also improve student learning conditions.
Federal Education Association Advocacy Protects Planning Time
Department of Defense Education Activity educators won dedicated time to complete their mandatory annual training, outside of planning time and other essential work time for educators. FEA continues to advocate that all educators deserve dedicated training time that does not conflict with class preparation.
Local Control Remains Bedrock of the Moutain State
West Virginia voters rejected Constitutional Amendments 2 and 4, which would have removed local control of taxing authority and shifted education policy decisions from the state board of education to the legislature. The West Virginia Education Association identified these measures as an attempted “power grab from the legislature to reward large corporate donors and to continue their assault on public education and education employees.”
“Local control is one of the cornerstones of our county government and local school system,” said WVEA President Dale Lee.
“Our members and coalition partners have worked tirelessly this fall to deliver our message and explain the consequences for our communities and schools if the amendments were to have passed. We thank the voters for supporting us.”
More than that, the State approved its third 5% raise for teachers and other education professionals since 2018.
Governor Tony Evers’ “Get Kids Ahead” initiative will provide $15 million to support school-based mental health services in K-12 schools across the state. The initiative is paired with a $5 million investment for the University of Wisconsin System to help students access mental health supports remotely and on campus.
Locally, Milwaukee Public Schools teachers and other staff will see their biggest collective raise in over a decade next school year.
The 4.7 percent raise for all district staff, matching the rate of inflation, is the maximum amount the MPS staff union, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, was allowed to bargain for.
"For years, many of our employees are what we all considered underpaid, and we as a board have worked diligently trying to make this happen and it needs to continue," said board member Marva Herndon.
Since Act 10 in 2011, Wisconsin teachers' unions cannot negotiate for raises higher than annual inflation, as measured by the state Department of Revenue. Since then, that rate hadn't topped 2.5% until this year and is typically less than 2 percent.
The Wyoming Education Association filed a lawsuit against the State of Wyoming, asserting that the state has violated the Wyoming Constitution by failing to fund public schools adequately.
"Our students deserve better," said WEA President Grady Hutcherson. "WEA felt compelled to file this suit because the quality of education in our state is beginning to suffer. If the Legislature continues to violate our constitution by failing to fulfill their duty to fund our schools adequately, things will only continue to get worse," he said.
"Already students are being disadvantaged with increased class sizes, aging buildings and infrastructure, and insufficient school security measures," said Hutcherson. "As we face a growing education employee shortage in our state, districts are being robbed of the financial resources they need to hire qualified teachers and Education Support Professionals (ESPs)."
The Wyoming Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the state's constitutional obligation to finance high-quality, fair, and equitable public education for every Wyoming student. Landmark rulings upholding this mandate have been awarded in favor of districts filing suit after they became victims of funding disparities.
The Wyoming Supreme Court has ordered the state to keep the school financing system current with actual costs by adjusting the model for inflation and adding any new items necessary for equitable, high-quality public education. The Legislature has failed to keep the model current.
With more members, we can have an even stronger voice to raise wages, improve working conditions, and create the schools our students deserve. Learn how to communicate about union membership and the meaningful changes won by educators in your area and across the country.
The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest
professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of
public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of
education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has
affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities
across the United States.