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Teacher union legitimacy: Shifting the moral center for member engagement

Abstract

This mixed-method case study explored teacher union members’ beliefs about the teacher union and their reasons for being active or inactive in the union. Findings suggest that teacher unions have gained pragmatic and cognitive legitimacy (Chaison and Bigelow in Unions and legitimacy. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2002), but that participants’ perceptions of the union’s moral legitimacy (Chaison and Bigelow in Unions and legitimacy. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2002) influenced their beliefs about the union. Specifically, participants’ beliefs about the union’s role in job protection, especially the protection of ineffective teachers, and social-professional supports (or lack of) strongly influenced their decisions to be active or inactive in the teacher union. These findings have implications for how effectively teacher unions are able to engage current members and sustain member engagement in the future.

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Notes

  1. The term professional community is defined by Bascia (1994) as member-defined conceptions of “we” and “they” within a “commonality based on mutual support of the same broad endeavor” (p. 7). Teachers within a professional community share a common identity based on a shared set of values, norms, and perspectives about the work they have in common and may even extend beyond work-related interests (Little 1993, 2003). This commonality may be based on identification with other teachers in the same department, school, or district, or on less formal factors based on issues, ideals, or values (Bascia 1994; Little 2003; Little and McLaughlin 1993).

  2. For this study, I defined the term traditional union, based on the literature, as a separation of labor and management within a hierarchical work structure (Kerchner and Caufman 1993; Koppich 2006) where labor and management engage in adversarial, win-lose concession-based negotiations and rely largely on political and public influence and threats of strikes or job actions to protect their interests—which typically include wages, benefits, working conditions, and job protection, as outlined in the collective bargaining agreement (Boyd et al. 2000; Hess and Kelly 2006; Kerchner and Caufman 1993; Koppich 2006). Traditional unions also typically lack the collaborative, shared leadership style of progressive or professional unions (Kerchner and Caufman 1993; Koppich 2006) and depend on active union members to engage in picketing, rallying, and strikes as public demonstrations of solidarity, strength, and power (Gaffney 2007; Kahlenberg 2006; Urban 1982).

  3. Political action was defined in the survey as engaging in one or more of the following activities: stuffing envelopes for political elections, making phone calls for political elections, union picketing or attending union rallies.

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Correspondence to Kara Popiel.

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Popiel, K. Teacher union legitimacy: Shifting the moral center for member engagement. J Educ Change 14, 465–500 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-013-9208-7

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Keywords

  • Moral legitimacy
  • Teacher activism
  • Teacher unions
  • Union legitimacy
  • Union protection