May 23, 2018

Awaiting Janus v. AFSCME Decision, Chicago Teachers Weigh in on Unions

May 23 (Chicago) — Chicago teachers are largely committed to their unions, but they also want them to better engage members and ensure their policy positions and priorities reflect the beliefs of their diverse memberships, according to the results from a new survey of teachers across the country.

Voices from the Classroom: A Survey of America’s Educators is a ground-breaking, nationally representative survey written for teachers, by teachers, produced by the teacher-led organization Educators for Excellence (E4E). Additional Chicago teachers were surveyed to enable deeper, city-level analysis.

A decision is expected within the next few weeks from the U.S. Supreme Court on Janus v. AFSCME, a case regarding the right of labor unions to collect mandatory fees from nonunion members for services they are required to provide to all employees, including representation for wages and benefits, grievances and disciplinary matters. The Janus decision will have major implications for teachers unions’ future memberships and revenue, so E4E is sharing results now relating to this case and to teachers’ thoughts about unions more generally.  

The questions are part of the larger Voices from the Classroom survey of teachers about what’s working, what holds promise and what needs to be changed in their schools, districts, unions, states and at the federal level. E4E will release the full survey on Aug.1.

Key union findings within Chicago:

Teachers largely regard their unions as essential:

  • Eighty-nine percent of all Chicago teachers regard unions as essential or important, compared to 85 percent nationally.
  • Without collective bargaining or a union, 95 percent of Chicago teachers believe the working conditions and salaries of teachers would be much worse, which is nine percentage points higher than the national average (86 percent).
  • Ninety-one percent of Chicago teachers believe they would be vulnerable to school politics or administrators who abuse their power, which is six percentage points higher than the national average (85 percent).

Teachers prioritize wages, benefits and job protections over politics: 

  • Chicago teachers (and all union teachers nationally) believe it is critically important for unions to:
    • Bargain for health/retirement benefits: 68 percent Chicago, 78 percent national
    • Bargain for wages/salary: 65 percent Chicago, 81 percent national
    • Protect teachers’ jobs: 62 percent Chicago, 76 percent national
    • Meanwhile, Chicago teachers feel it is a lot less important for the unions to provide information about political candidates and their issue positions (21 percent), or support and endorse political candidates (19 percent).

Yet, most teachers believe their unions’ policy decisions are not greatly aligned with their own policy preferences:

  • Despite being the primary agent for teachers in policy decisions, 57 percent of Chicago teachers said their union represents their perspective only somewhat, while another 11 percent said that it did not very much or did not at all. 

And, unions are currently engaging only approximately half of their members:

  • Although they feel the unions are important, Chicago teachers’ engagement is relatively low, with 58 percent union members reporting that they voted in a union election, attended a union meeting (55 percent) or spoke to a union representative (48 percent) in the past year. 14 percent reported doing nothing.

More than half of teachers have heard nothing about Janus v. AFSCME:

  • As of April 2018, 60 percent of Chicago teachers had heard not much (28 percent) or nothing (32 percent) about the case, which is better than the national average, in which 78 percent had heard not much (21 percent) or nothing (57 percent).

Unions could face membership revenue challenges if, as expected, the Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus:

  • When asked if they would be likely to actively opt in to their union if they were not automatically enrolled, eight out of 10 Chicago teachers said they would be likely to do so.

For more details on the national results, visit e4e.org/teachersurvey.

About the Survey:

E4E’s mission is to ensure that teachers have a leading voice in the policies that impact their students and profession. Even though policymakers at every level of the system are talking about teachers, they rarely are talking with teachers.  

Voices from the Classroom: A Survey of America’s Educators captures crucial insight on the views and opinions of a representative sample of current public school teachers across the country on a wide variety of issues impacting their students and their profession. The full survey will be released on August 1. 

Survey Methodology:

The survey was conducted online from April 14-May 6, 2018, among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 full-time traditional public school and public charter school teachers and an additional sample of 100 Chicago teachers. The survey questionnaire was developed in consultation with E4E member teachers from across the U.S., while the instrument was written and administered by Gotham Research Group, an independent, New York-based research firm.

Janus v. AFSCME Background:

Currently, all public sector workers have the right to opt out of joining a union. In some states, such as Illinois, public sector unions have had the right to collect “fair share” fees from those who opt out in order to cover the cost of the services the union is required to provide to all employees. Unions can only use fair share fees for non-political activities, such as negotiating contracts, legal representation or speaking up on general policy issues like professional standards for teachers or access to educational resources for students. They cannot use these fees for political activities such as lobbying or supporting candidates.

If Janus prevails, the Supreme Court would rule that all union activities constitute political speech, making it unconstitutional to charge compulsory dues. This would reduce the revenue that unions use to negotiate job matters like fair pay, access to healthcare and retirement benefits, even though they would still be required to do this on behalf of all teachers. Public sector workers, which include teachers, would have to actively opt in to join a union. In addition to losing members, their dues and the fair-share fees of non-members, unions may have the added expense of collecting dues no longer automatically deducted from paychecks, thereby further draining resources used for providing services to teachers.