How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison
by Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D., Janie Scull, Dara Zeehandelaar, Ph.D., Fordham Institute, October 29, 2012
This timely study represents the most comprehensive analysis of American teacher unions’ strength ever conducted, ranking all fifty states and the District of Columbia according to the power and influence of their state-level unions. To assess union strength, the Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now examined thirty-seven different variables across five realms:
- Resources and Membership
- Involvement in Politics
- Scope of Bargaining
- State Policies
- Perceived Influence
The study analyzed factors ranging from union membership and revenue to state bargaining laws to campaign contributions, and included such measures such as the alignment between specific state policies and traditional union interests and a unique stakeholder survey. The report sorts the fifty-one jurisdictions into five tiers, ranking their teacher unions from strongest to weakest and providing in-depth profiles of each.
Hawaii’s teacher union enjoys substantial financial resources, a large, unified membership, and a favorable policy climate. It is actively involved in state politics, and—despite its local reputation for only moderate influence—it is the strongest state union in the nation.
AREA 1: RESOURCES AND MEMBERSHIP TIED FOR 3RD
Hawaii’s state teacher union, the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), benefits from abundant resources and a high membership rate. It is also Hawaii’s only teacher union—the state consists of a single school district—and 96.7 percent of teachers are members (the 7th-highest unionization rate of 51 jurisdictions nationwide). The HTSA brings in $705 annually per teacher in the state, also the 7th-highest. In addition, per-pupil expenditures in the Aloha state are 13th-highest across the country at $13,090 per student, and 54.4 percent of those expenditures go toward teacher salaries and benefits (23rd).
AREA 2: INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICS TIED FOR 1ST
Hawaii’s teacher union has been a major player in state politics in the past ten years. Its donations accounted for 1.5 percent of total contributions received by candidates for state office (9th); those contributions equaled 15.4 percent of all contributions from the ten highest-giving sectors in the state (7th). In addition, a full 20.2 percent of Hawaii’s delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions were teacher union members (9th).3
AREA 3: SCOPE OF BARGAINING 9TH
Hawaii is one of twenty-one states that require collective bargaining and permit unions to automatically collect agency fees from non-member teachers—a key source of union revenue. Still, the state limits the scope of bargaining in some ways: Of twenty-one subjects examined in this analysis, Hawaii law explicitly prohibits bargaining over four: management rights, transfers, layoffs, and pension/retirement benefits. On the other hand, the remaining seventeen items are either required (wages, hours, insurance benefits, fringe benefits, and terms and conditions of employment) or permitted bargaining subjects.
AREA 4: STATE POLICIES 9TH
In part because they tend to protect teacher job security, Hawaii policies are closely aligned with traditional union interests. State law does not require that teacher evaluations include student achievement data. Further, it grants tenure virtually automatically after just two years (one of only six states that confer tenure in fewer than three years), and layoff decisions are based solely on seniority rather than teacher performance. Compared to most other states, Hawaii teachers contribute less to their pensions than their employers do, and the state’s teacher-dismissal rate is the 12th-lowest in the country, with just 1.1 percent dismissed each year because of poor performance. Hawaii law also does not favor charter schools: The state places a cap with limited room for growth on the number of charters that can operate, allows for only a single authorizer, and requires that all charter schools be part of existing collective bargaining agreements (although they can apply for exemptions).
AREA 5: PERCEIVED INFLUENCE 23RD
Despite the union’s considerable resources, when compared to respondents in other states, Hawaii stakeholders perceive the strength of their union to be moderate, on par with that of the state school board and association of school administrators. They agree that the HSTA fought hard in light of recent budgetary constraints to prevent reductions in pay and benefits and that the union is generally effective in protecting dollars for education. But they report that policies proposed by the governor in the latest legislative session and those actually enacted were only somewhat in line with union priorities.4 The perception of limited influence despite substantial resources could indicate that the state union is maintaining a low profile in a favorable environment, may reflect the union’s recent clashes with state leaders (see sidebar), or potentially illustrates the union’s waning reputation after the state famously (or infamously) briefly implemented a four-day week in the fall of 2009 as a belt-tightening measure.
LINK: PDF With Details for Each Area
CB: Okabe, Husted Embrace Findings
SA: HSTA called mightiest U.S. teachers union
The head of the Hawaii State Teachers Association says he's "pleased" with the findings of a new national report that shows HSTA is the strongest teachers union in the nation.
"The strong record of HSTA speaks for itself," said Wil Okabe in a statement. "We have fought and won many of the significant professional standards enjoyed by teachers throughout the nation."….
In his statement, Okabe said the findings of the report "may reflect that Hawaii's teachers refuse to allow the governor to impose an unfair collective bargaining agreement on us."
"The point of this report was not to paint teachers unions in a negative light," she said. "It really is about these invisible ways that they can show power and use power."
Best Comment: “This article states that HSTA is strong. What it doesn't state is that teachers in this state have no effective representation, less pay and benefits and a very negative work environment.”
The strength of teacher unions in the U.S.
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