NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Younger Teachers Aren't Joining Major Unions

October 14, 1996

Younger teachers differ from their older counterparts on several important issues -- possibly spelling future troubles for their union leaders.

According to a recent National Education Association internal survey:

  • New, younger teachers are more interested in being part of a professional association than in belonging to an old-style union that endorses political candidates and distributes member dues to their campaigns.
  • They back merit pay-- putting them in conflict with union policies.
  • Those under 35 are more concerned with instructional issues, support in the classroom, in-service training and opportunities to broaden their abilities with new instructional techniques.
  • The main concern of teachers over 50-years-old is job security.

Union leaders' response has been to try to find ways of getting their young members to conform to the old policies, but demographics are working against them. In the next decade 2 million teachers will leave their jobs and their replacements will bring non-union attitudes with them.

Even now younger teachers are not joining the two major unions -- the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers -- at rates their predecessors did, but forming their own professional associations in right-to-work states. Already these associations claim 300,000 members -- 75,000 in the Association of Texas Professional Educators alone.

Observers say that the unions' staffs have developed into comfortable, cushy bureaucracies interested in maintaining the status quo.

  • Over 3,000 midlevel NEA and AFT staff officials earn over $100,000 a year in salaries and benefits.
  • But they have avoided hiring staff with recent classroom experience -- the AFT even going so far as to eliminate the job of its sole experienced classroom technology consultant.

Critics note two other union attempts to stifle reform: The NEA passed a resolution in favor of charter schools but made it into a charade by calling for union membership among teachers. And despite passing peer review procedures in 1981, the AFT hasn't adopted them nationally.

Source: Lewis L. Jaffe (21st Century Networking), "Are Teachers Unions Relevant Anymore?" Wall Street Journal, October 14, 1996.


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