WASHINGTON—AFT members across the country have painted a sobering picture of their professions after a trying two years marked by relentless political attacks, persistent shortages, school shootings and flatlining salaries—but see their union as a beacon of hope.
Independent polling of AFT members conducted late last month and released on the eve of the union’s national convention by Hart Research Associates, shows a 34-point rise in job dissatisfaction among preK-12 members since the start of the pandemic, from 45 to 79 percent. The sentiment is echoed by members across the higher education, healthcare and public employee divisions.
Since the school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, educators increasingly fear the scourge of gun violence in their schools, with nearly half of all members concerned about a mass shooting.
“Under Siege: The Outlook of AFT Members” finds workload, compensation, conditions, disruptions and support as variables changing educators’ work lives for the worse. Nearly 9 out of 10 respondents say schools have become too politicized, following a year of political attacks on teachers waged by politicians stoking culture wars and banning books for personal gain.
Forty percent of AFT members across all divisions say they may leave the job in the next two years, and three-quarters of teachers say they would not recommend their profession to others.
“AFT members were on the frontlines of the first wave of the pandemic, but in many ways the last year was even harder,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Whether it was mask wars, culture wars, the war on truth, or the devastation in Uvalde, members sacrificed and struggled and carried their schools and their students through the most difficult days of their lives.
“Students returned to campuses and classrooms with enormous needs, and educators shouldered countless additional responsibilities as they rallied to meet those needs.”
Despite the downbeat mood, there is a ray of light: More than 3,000 delegates representing 1.7 million AFT members will converge in Boston this week for the union’s biennial convention, and, by a 2-1 ratio, they give their local union top marks, while 3 in 4 say their national union is an important vehicle to fight for their rights.
“AFT members are dedicated to helping others have a better life. Through it all, we see potential and possibility; we choose hope over fear, aspiration over despair and the greater good over self-interest. Our members see their union as the vehicle to fix the problems, enact the solutions, and definitively, defiantly and undeniably stand for hope, aspiration and a better country for all,” said Weingarten.
In the aftermath of a devastating run of gun violence, school safety stands as a major challenge that members are pushing to overcome. There is broad and strong support for improving gun safety, and more than 75 percent of preK-12 members oppose arming teachers and staff in public schools, saying it would make their workplace less, not more, safe. By a similar margin, school staff favor both armed and unarmed security in their building.
This week, the AFT will propose several strategies to overcome the malaise, including recommendations by the teacher and healthcare shortage task forces, launched in December.
The comprehensive national survey of 2,379 AFT members, including 1,341 preK-12 members, was conducted June 17 to 21, 2022, by Hart Research Associates for the AFT. The margin of error is +/- 2.9 percent. The full deck can be viewed here.