Some Indiana teacher unions see declines in membership

In this Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015 photo, substitute teacher Jodi Smith teaches a fifth grade class at Riverside Intermediate School in Fishers, Ind. School districts throughout the country have reported struggles to find substitute teachers. Smith has a master’s degree in international affairs and knows she could earn more money elsewhere. But she works as a substitute teacher about three to four days a week, mostly to keep the same schedule as her children, who are in fifth and eighth grades. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Teacher union membership has been on the decline in some Indiana school districts over the past four years since the General Assembly passed a law limiting the scope of collective bargaining agreements to wages and wage-related benefits, officials say.

Union leaders say there are various reasons for the drop, including the costs of being a union member, a feeling of helplessness caused by changing education standards and a frustration over the lack of funding for public education. In addition, new and younger teachers are finding fewer reasons to join because thee change in law.

“Some people say, ‘What can you do for me?'” Tippecanoe Education Association co-president Mary Eisert told the Journal & Courier. “We have to work harder to sell the value (of the union).”

The percentage of teachers who belong to the union in both Mishawaka and Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. has declined by about 10 percent in the past four years, the South Bend Tribune reported. The Lafayette Education Association saw a 17 percent drop in the past four school years.

But it’s not just a problem in Indiana. The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, has lost more than 200,000 members in the past four years. Jim Testerman, senior director of the NEA’s Center for Organizing, said the union, which represents nearly 3 million members, is on track to see its first membership gain this year after four years of decline.

Eric Johnson, a sixth-grade teacher at LaSalle Elementary School in Mishawaka, didn’t join a teachers union until his third year in the classroom. He said he equates membership in the union to legal insurance, saying it “provides me peace of mind for any mean-spirited actions or allegations that may ever present themselves in my line of work.”

Local union leaders say despite the new laws, their associations continue to have working relationships with school district officials. Jeanine Reynolds, the union president in Mishawaka, said of the administration, “We share common goals and understand the importance of working together.”

Dave Misener, PHM schools’ teachers union representative, said union officials point out to new hires that many items that are no longer bargainable, like class size and hours, can be discussed.

“And we don’t just bargain the contract,” he said. “We lobby the legislature, help protect individuals’ rights and offer some legal services.”

Eric Johnson, a sixth-grade teacher at LaSalle Elementary School in Mishawaka, finds being a union member worthwhile.

“As a public school teacher, I think I need someone to speak for me and my kids’ best interests,” he said. “If that voice isn’t strong enough, there are too many people that have a voice on what we do here that can control the conversation, whether what they say is factual, true, reality or not.”


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