State Of The Unions: Let’s Not Be So Hasty Comparing Police To Teachers

By Jennifer Wagner

There has been much debate in recent weeks about criminal justice reform following the killing of George Floyd and a series of high-profile cases of police brutality against African-Americans.

Police unions have found themselves squarely in a very harsh spotlight.

Because the word “union” is being bandied about, some in the school choice movement have seized the opportunity to compare police unions to teachers’ unions.

We probably want to think twice about that.

Not all unions perform the same function, and not all unions are viewed the same way by the public.

While there are widespread calls right now to abolish police unions, the general public maintains a positive view of organized labor, as you can see reflected in this decades-long polling from Gallup. (It’s worth noting that union membership itself has significantly declined over the past 35 years.)

While there currently are no publicly available data on how police unions are viewed compared to other union types, it’s clear there’s a growing appetite for criminal justice reform policies intended to prevent police violence.

This recent survey from AP-NORC shows strong support for police body cameras; requiring officers to report misconduct by the peers; clear standards regarding the use of force; and prosecuting officers who use excessive force.

None of this should come as a surprise.

Support — or lack thereof — for something is often a measure of trustworthiness.

Digging deeper, we asked the general public where they get their information about education. Again, the top response? Teachers.

You can see from this breakdown that the general public doesn’t get much information from teachers unions, which naturally leads to another question: Where do teachers get their information?

Answer: other teachers, schools and…unions.

It’s no surprise, then, that teachers feel strong levels of support from their union, especially at the local level:

When we train school choice advocates, I always caution that attacking teachers’ unions comes across as attacking teachers. (For what it’s worth, it’s generally a good idea not to attack anyone or any group if you want to open a constructive dialogue that leads to reform.)

These survey results bear out that people have strong positive feelings toward teachers, and teachers have strong positive feelings toward unions. The same is not true for law enforcement right now.

Trying to connect the two professions — or their respective unions — doesn’t seem to make much sense.

Jennifer Wagner is a mom, a recovering political hack and the Vice President of Communications for EdChoice, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes universal school choice.

State Of The Unions: Let’s Not Be So Hasty Comparing Police To Teachers was originally published in EdChoice on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.