The NEA and its state affiliates represent to teachers that union membership is the only way to have job protection and liability insurance coverage. However, teachers have a number of options besides belonging to the NEA or one of its state affiliates.
Considering that union dues for most full-time members in Colorado range from $700 to $800 per year (multiplied by the number of teachers in the district who are members), the initial evaluation should involve an analysis whether the cost equals the value received. Many teachers have come to the conclusion it is not a good value, but are not aware of their options.
One option available for teachers is the creation of a local only teacher union (LOTU). A LOTU is a local union that represents teachers for collective bargaining negotiations and grievance administration, but the organization is not affiliated with the Colorado Education Association or National Education Association. (Or as the case may be, with the American Federation of Teachers.) A LOTU allows teachers to continue to be covered to by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, have an established grievance procedure, and have a salary schedule.
A LOTU can be established in one of two ways:
- Severing the affiliation relationship between the local and the state and national association by amending the local constitution and bylaws; or
- Decertification of the NEA/and state chapter while simultaneously certifying the local education association as the sole bargaining representative.
If a union has not been certified as a bargaining representative, a group of teachers may choose a LOTU on the initial representation petition filed at the time of the teachers pursue an election.
Across the nation, local education associations and local teacher unions have made the decision to end their affiliated relationship with the state and national NEA organizations, while remaining a bargaining representative either as a local union, a faculty senate, a personnel committee or a non-union employee association recognized by the employer to bargain and handle grievances for teachers.
Exercising one of these options has assured teachers of effective representation services for a lot less money. A local union president in Illinois contacted the Association of American Educators (AAE) and asked for help to end the local teachers’ relationship with the Illinois Education Association. She realized they were sending IEA more than $20,000 per year in dues, but the services they received weren’t nearly that valuable. In 2007, the teachers formally ended their affiliation with IEA and NEA.
More recently, the teacher’s association in Riley, Kansas, moved to a LOTU through an election to decertify the KNEA bargaining representation. They are presently working through bargaining a new contract without any of the tension experienced in the past. As explained in a 2009 podcast interview, the teachers feel that is because everyone at the table knows the circumstances in the school and that they will continue to work together once bargaining is over—not move on to another community.
Riley teachers exercised the second option—to terminate the relationship with NEA and the state affiliate through the formal decertification process provided through the state employment relations board. While the Riley teachers chose to vote for a LOTU, other teachers across the nation have chosen to work collaboratively to establish an employee association or faculty senate. Both are governance models that work with school administration to establish employment policies and practices, including salaries and a grievance procedure.
A third option is the creation of a personnel committee, which may consist of employees of all different classifications, i.e. certified as well as classified, who work with the administration to create a positive work culture and establish the policies and practices that allow for optimal employment relations for all of the staff members.
- Ullin, Illinois (2007)
- Riley, Kansas (2009)
- Earlham and Moravia, Iowa (2011)
- Roscommon, Michigan (2012)
- Waterville, Washington (2012)
- Deerfield, Kansas (2013)
- Corning, California (2013)
Each of these models has proven effective for those who have implemented them. One model may work better than another, based on local needs and preferences. Teachers should consider all options and then determine what model will serve their needs best.