Union power is the best solution to the teacher shortage

Labor Day is upon us again, and while the labor market is tight across all sectors, the pain is particularly acute in public schools.

In February, the National Education Association conducted a survey of its three million members and found that 90% of respondents felt burnout was a “serious problem”, while more than half of members said consider leaving the profession “sooner than planned”.

With this immediate teacher shortage comes long-term concerns, with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting that there will be an 8% increase in the number of high school teachers needed by 2030. But more immediately, the current teacher shortage is the product of an orchestrated attack on public spaces that, unfortunately, has escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I teach social studies to six-grade students at a public school in New Hampshire, which in July 2021 joined the ranks of at least five other states that have restricted classroom conversations about race and gender. Despite what their proponents claim, these laws are clear political ploys designed for the express purpose of preventing honest conversations about history in schools by intimidating teachers.

Teachers must come together to revitalize associations from the ground up and repel attacks on our public schools.

These outrageous scare tactics have since become even more dangerous: Last November, when the state education commissioner set up a web portal to file complaints against educators, the fringe group Moms for Liberty offered a $500 bonus to the first person to use the site to successfully report a teacher.

But attacks on the rights of public school teachers are not new. Before the attacks on so-called critical race theory and any discussion of gender and sexuality in the classroom, there was a decades-long campaign to silence teachers’ unions. A series of U.S. Supreme Court cases, such as Janus v. AFSCME, aimed at destabilizing public sector unions. The janus This decision limited teachers’ unions to collecting “fair” money to cover the cost of collectively bargained contracts. Removing these dues allowed free-riders to reap the benefits of union contracts while placing a greater burden on co-workers, straining labor relations.


Teachers must come together to revitalize associations from the ground up and repel attacks on our public schools. Local teachers can find power by volunteering to participate in union actions and strengthening relationships across district boundaries. Educators who take up this challenge will follow the work of past generations who fought to establish labor rights.

After all, unions are an iteration of the long American tradition of citizens coming together for a common civic purpose. As an essential part of every community, union members must also demand democratic reforms internally. Challenging existing union leaders leads to increased excitement and dialogue within the union. The best ideas often come to the surface in spaces conducive to thoughtful debate.

Unions also help to institutionalize civic norms and practices. To be leaders in the wider community, unions must demand democratic reforms internally. The practice of openness serves as a buttress to the organization rigor mortis. Creating an internal culture of openness and support will help empower members with diverse backgrounds and experiences and act as a safeguard against cliques and narrow-mindedness. This can be strengthened by enacting term limits for officers and establishing leadership development programs that increase the capacity of the next generation of local union leaders and stewards.

Democratic reforms have the potential to energize members and positively influence the discourse on public education and unions. Increasing participation cannot be achieved through technological solutions such as mass texting or more precise digital campaign marketing. Instead, we must grow with each other and insist on an expansive common purpose where every voice can add to the growing choir for change.

As we celebrate Labor Day, let’s remember what caused the current teacher shortage. Our students, our schools, and our communities deserve a full team of loving, skilled adults. As Pete Seeger once sang, You may be down, but you’re not beaten / Distribute a flyer and call a meeting.

September 5, 2022

6:00 AM

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