Public support for unions surges as educators and other school staff strike for better teaching and learning conditions

Recent Gallup survey data shows that more than 70% of people in the United States view unions favorably despite only 10% of employees being represented by unions. The ongoing democracy deficit in the workplace results from retaliation and other union-busting tactics used by numerous employers across the country. This longstanding dynamic may be shifting, however, as more people organize and fight for greater workplace fairness. In that regard, the National Labor Relations Board has received nearly 60% more union election petitions filed under the National Labor Relations Act this year. More to the point, unions and the employees supporting them have racked up impressive organizing wins at Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe’s, REI, Google, and other high-profile corporations.

Despite the widespread support for unions, educators and other school staff continue to face challenges that make their work environment and, therefore, students’ learning environment inadequate and even unsafe at times. Given the cynical and misleading attacks against anti-racist, pro-gender-equality, and other civil rights efforts – as well as the reckless underfunding of public education for years – a significant shortage of educators and other school staff now exists across the nation. In fact, the current situation appears dire. Class sizes are typically excessive, curricula often focus on high-stakes testing rather than enriching programming, students lack the social and emotional supports necessary to succeed, and educators remain underpaid – approximately 25% less than other college graduates – even when accounting for time off from work and employee benefits. These increasingly unsustainable conditions, including the continuing failure to handle the pandemic and its impact effectively, have forced educators and other school staff to go on strike around the country at the start of the new school year. Notably, these concerted actions follow a wave of strikes shortly before the pandemic began – including in so-called Red States. Hopefully, policymakers will now take the action needed to solve the problems that have undercut the vital work of educators and other school staff for so long.