Teacher Unions

A teacher union is a special type of labor union designed to represent the interests and rights of educators. The goal of a teacher union is to secure benefits such as wages, work rules and job protection. They also shape the way education works for themselves and their students.

Speech-language pathologists may choose to join their local teacher union.

Benefits include advocacy for improved pay and benefits, representation in contract negotiations and advocacy for optimal working conditions and student learning environments.

In states where teacher unions exist, most are affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), or the National Education Association (NEA).


Before engaging with teacher unions, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with the words and phrases commonly used in the bargaining agreement process and contracts. Here is a resource that provides union terms to know.

Becoming Involved

To benefit from the union, and negotiate change, it is important to become involved. Once you are involved, the following steps are helpful to enhance your understanding of how the union works.

  • Understand the policy, procedures and decision-making process of the group
  • Familiarize yourself with the local contract
  • Meet with the leadership to let them know who you are and what you do
  • Serve on a committee
  • Run for office
  • Know the system and players at all levels:
    • School building/site 
    • District/Central office 
    • State
    • Federal

Strategies for Engaging with Teacher Unions

ASHA’s Working for Change: A Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists Working in Schools [PDF] offers guidance for working with unions.

Step 1: Lay the Groundwork

  • Establish a committee of district-wide speech-language pathology and audiology representatives to work with your local union/association representative and solve problems with the central administration.
  • Examine your local contract for any vehicle/committee for addressing needs of a specific group of professionals, either within a building or across a district; if this cannot be found, contact local union/association officials to ask what provisions exist.
  • Obtain support of the union/association to gather names and contact information for members in speech-language pathology and audiology job categories.

Step 2: Collaborate

  • Join or start a group to plan a meeting that would result in identifying common needs for audiologists and speech-language pathologists across the entire district.
  • Identify a representative from the group who is willing to meet regularly to help resolve issues.
  • Meet with a representative of the union/ association to set up meeting procedures (this may take several meetings).
  • Define how often the group will meet and set a schedule.
  • Gather input from all speech-language pathologists and audiologists.

Step 3: Take Action

  • Develop a problem-solving process.
  • Establish and maintain contact with the district administrator for speech and hearing services, (including regular meetings).
  • Share information on discussions and resolutions with all speech-language pathologists and audiologists. 
  • Determine what support your union/association can provide in terms of staff support, meeting space, funding. 
  • Determine how the union/association will communicate and interact with this committee to make contractual gains specific to speech-language pathologists and audiologists.
  • Determine alternative solutions you can live with if you cannot achieve an agreement and be prepared to listen to feedback from the union.
  • Develop your strategy, rally your allies and use data to support your position.

See how a member worked with her colleagues and union to achieve a reduced caseload size in her district in this Success Story: Advocating With a School Union.

Negotiation Tips

Know your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BANTA). What is the best you can hope to achieve, if you can't negotiate an agreement?

Invite your union/association representative or staff members to provide support, data, or substantiation.

Go into a meeting with a clear description of the problem and how it affects student progress or staff productivity.

Be prepared to discuss problems openly — conflicts or anxieties should be acknowledged and discussed frankly. In fact, if any tension arises, be sure to face it calmly and honestly and do not to take it personally.

Separate the people from the problem. Recognize that people's egos become entangled with their stances/positions. Work side by side with the participants and attack the problem, not each other.

Listen to the other parties' demands and then focus on what you think the other parties' interests and needs really are. Also, be clear about what your own interests and needs are and be persistent in pursuing them.

Actively listen to ensure that what you are saying is what you mean and what is being heard is what is intended.

Be sure to provide several solutions for each concern with a clear rationale for how each could be accomplished. Don't be afraid to provide opinions on which solutions you feel would be most desirable to yourself or to your staff.

Use objective standards to determine specific outcomes.

Make sure that you or another participant takes notes that can be used for reference or back-up once a decision goes into effect. Be sure that all interested parties get a copy of those minutes, including the administrator.

Focus on solutions that are most conducive to student achievement and growth.


Examples of Bargaining Agreement Language for SLPs

ASHA Comparison Data and Advocacy Resources

Caseload and Workload: Tools and Support

    ASHA Publications


    ASHA Corporate Partners