Teachers Group Looks to Expand Membership After Supreme Court Ruling

A June ruling loosening union-dues requirements has opened the door for the Association of American Educators to seek out new members nationwide.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unions that represent public-sector employees such as teachers cannot collect agency fees from its members. The case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, technically shouldn’t have made a big difference in Arkansas, one of 27 “right to work” states that doesn’t obligate union membership. But the Arkansas State Teachers Association has used Janus as an opportunity to speak out about its member benefits, activity that’s part of its parent association’s strategy to expand membership after the ruling.

We’ve seen an uptick in members in communities where we don’t have direct recruiting activity.

About two weeks after Janus, ASTA took out a full-page ad in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette [PDF]. Framed as an open letter to public-school employees, Executive Director Michele Linch laid out the benefits of ASTA membership over union membership, with a particular emphasis on dues expenses. “We knew [Janus] was a huge decision, and we wanted to give it the prominence that we felt it needed,” she said.

Linch said it’s too early in the school year to provide firm numbers but said that ASTA has seen some member growth since the ruling. “We’ve definitely had a bump from last year in terms of membership increases,” she said. “We always have a bump around this time of the year, but it’s bigger than last year.”

ASTA is a chapter of the Association of American Educators, which has long promoted itself as an alternative to union membership for teachers. AAE Executive Vice President Colin Sharkey said although ASTA took its own initiative with the advertisement, it fits into AAE’s efforts to find ways to increase awareness about its work after Janus.

“Though the Janus decision didn’t have a direct impact on how unions function in about half the states the country, it was certainly an opportunity to address the difference between a professional association and a traditional labor union, as well as our specific benefit offerings,” he said. “ASTA’s letter in the newspaper is an example of us doubling down on some new strategies for trying to better serve members and make more potential members aware of us.”

That’s meant that AAE has had to begin to think of itself as more of a national organization, instead of putting more emphasis on right-to-work states as it has in the past. AAE recently hired a full-time national advocacy staffer, and it’s working on a national rollout of a set of web tools and explainer videos about AAE membership, targeted to those who might previously have seen a union as their sole option for representation.

Janus itself, though, has served as its own form of advertising for AAE, Sharkey said. “We’ve seen an uptick in members in communities where we don’t have direct recruiting activity, which is most likely an outgrowth of the national awareness around Janus,” he said. “We’ve had numerous members specifically mention the new right in the Janus decision as the reason to explore their options. They had never, ever researched before what else they could join, because they couldn’t make that choice.”

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Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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