Union Share of Teacher Workforce at Historic Low

March 10, 2014

Union Share of Teacher Workforce at Historic Low. Last week we examined how teacher unions stand in relation to the rest of the labor movement. As the number of union members overall continued its decades-long decline, teacher unions were able to add members for many years, and so became the predominant sector of organized labor.

But how have the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers fared in relation to the teaching workforce? Was teacher union growth a function of organizational effort, or simply the expansion of the teaching population? Thanks to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and unionstats.com, we have an answer.

BLS began tracking union data in 1983. That year there were more than 2.6 million people employed as primary, secondary and special education teachers in both public and private schools. More than 1.5 million of them were union members, for a unionization rate of 57.5 percent.

By 1995 there were 600,000 more teachers, but the unionization rate was virtually identical. In the 18 years since, the rate has never approached that height again.

In fact, while America’s schools added almost a million and a quarter new teachers, teachers’ unions added fewer than 345,000 new members, for a rate of 27.8 percent.

Last year was the first time since BLS has been collecting such statistics that there were more non-union elementary, secondary and special education teachers than union teachers.

This is an extraordinary turn of events after an era in which NEA and AFT mostly had their way in education policy and totally dominated education labor policy. Industrial unions have been unable to reverse similar circumstances. Is there reason to believe teacher unions will be different?


Recent Intercepts. EIA’s daily blog, Intercepts, covered these topics March 4-10:

Is Common Core Really Botched? “ObamaCore” mimics Obamacare.

AFT Won’t Accept Gates Money, Except When It Does. Plus, guess who makes up the difference?

Common Core: The Past 24 Hours. Not exactly settled.

Put This One in the Circular File. Other than everything, the allegations were accurate.

For One Dollar More. Bounty.

Quote of the Week. “There are school districts all over the country peopled with Luddites who are tremendously resistant to change.” – Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari and education technology entrepreneur. (March 4 Politico)