Teacher Unions

Teacher Unions

Since the earliest days of unions, teachers have been fighting over the same issues: salaries, conditions at schools, and tenure. In the early 1960s the teachers unions fought hard to get adequate salaries and protections for teachers.  As a result of the success of their union’s activities in cities like New York and Baltimore, teachers were becoming the new middle class. They were less and less subject to arbitrary firings and discipline.  For many, teaching was a way out of the working class and into a stable career.  The focus on what we call “bread and butter” issues (job security, pay, sick leave, benefits, work hours etc) was, at one time, the most important set of issues to fight for.


But over time, and perhaps starting as early as the late 1960s, there were more and more teachers who wanted to do more to align with the communities and students they served.  There was a tension developing between the union leadership whose principles and beliefs came from the working class struggles, and many of the teachers who were also concerned with changing schools to make them more equitable and responsive to what the communities were fighting for.

Currently there is a national move to drastically cut back on the power of all unions.  This summer there is a Supreme Court case called “Janus” (Janus vs. ASFCME) that could change union employee’s options for being a full-dues paying union member.  This decision could drastically cut the number of employees in each union, decreasing the power of the union.

In Baltimore, a group of teacher activists have formed a social justice caucus within the Baltimore Teachers Union in an attempt to balance “bread and butter” issues with working to create equity and keep public schools in the hands of communities.  This caucus is called BMORE (Baltimore Movement of Rank-and-File Educators) and is part of a national movement of social justice caucuses working to increase teacher participation in the union to fight for schools Baltimore students deserve by working with parents and communities.  

On the whole, we believe that since teachers working conditions are the same as students learning conditions, there should be a natural alliance between parents, teachers, and students. One of the common barriers to this natural alliance is the messaging in the media and in faculty lounges around parents being the problem.

Here is a list of some things that could help build coalition between parents and teachers:

  • Teachers and parents need interaction beyond disciplinary meetings

  • How can teachers at other schools band together

  • Helping teachers, students, and parents organize themselves to advocate

  • More neighborhood schools--the scattering of students and teachers away from neighborhood schools stops relationship building

  • A community wide school board

  • Open teacher contract negotiation and how the contract can represent those wishes of teachers, students, and parents

  • Don’t fall for pitting teachers against students

  • Don’t get into a defensive fight. Put out a vision for what schools need.