FAQs: Texas AFT

 

What is Texas AFT?
Texas AFT is a statewide organization that exists to serve its members and local unions, also called “local units” or “affiliates.” Texas AFT currently has 64,000 members and growing.

When you join a local union—for example, the Houston Federation of Teachers in Houston ISD, or Amarillo AFT for Amarillo ISD—you are automatically a member in the statewide organization of Texas AFT and our national organization, the American Federation of Teachers, based in Washington, DC. Likewise, when you join the “Associate Member Program” (AMP) for districts not covered by one of the 26 local unions, you also become part of the Texas AFT and AFT family. Members of local unions elect a president and a secretary-treasurer at stateconventions in odd-numberedyears, and the state organization is governed by an executive board made up of locally elected presidents. These 27 local presidents provideongoing policy direction toTexas AFT officers between biennial conventions.

Texas AFT strives to provide a range of initiatives and services to local unions and all members. For example, Texas AFT provides lobbyists at the TexasLegislature, the Texas Education Agency, the Teacher Retirement System and other education-related state bodies. Campaigns for statewide pay raises, state-paid health insurance, and our successful initiative to pass theSafe Schools Actare examples of the advocacy activities of Texas AFT members and its team of registered lobbyists.

Texas AFT also provides a range of publications–such as theTexas Teacher magazinemailed quarterly to all members, specialized publications, and the PSRP Report mailed to paraprofessionals and school-related personnel. Additionally, Texas AFT maintains a robust Web site and two e-mail newsletters, the weekly Inside Education and daily Legislative Hotline.

Texas AFT offers an ever-changing catalogue of workshops, some on a statewide basis, some locally, and some in a train-the-trainer format covering topics from improving professional practices to how to run a political campaign. Texas AFT also holdsmajor conferences focusing on professional issues, including one for paraprofessionals and school-relatedpersonnel and one for teacher members.

What does my local union do?
Texas AFT believes that the local union is the key to promoting the interests of educational employees. Local school boards hire and fire, promulgate work rules, decide local pay raises, and implement initiatives that help or hurt employees on campuses. We as Texas AFT members have the greatest power over school boards if we are organized to make our voices heard at the board level and at the ballot box duringschool-board elections.

We believe that local educational employees should have the right to negotiate a written contract withthe local school board. Texas is one of only a handful of states that deny collective bargaining to public employees. Consequently our employment contracts generally are dictated to us by our local school boards and impose broad responsibilities on us with little in the way of rights or protections. Until we can change this discriminatory law, we strive at the local level to enter into “elected consultation” arrangements with local school boards to achieve what is possible now to protect and promote the interests of educational employees.

We have won consultation elections in Corpus Christi, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and South San Antonio that allow us to serve as the single, strong voice for educational employees in local policy-making.Texas AFT and its locals are proud that, wheneducational employees have the right to vote freely on which educational employee organization they want to represent them, Texas AFT regularly wins.

Does AFT have a local union in all 1,140 Texas school districts?
No, not yet. But we do have members in some 890 school districts in Texas that belong to our Associate Members Program (AMP). In fact, Texas AFT has more than 23,000 members in districts where a local union is yet to be organized.

How does a local union form?
We are constantly on the alert for members in these districts who are willing to make the commitment and assume the leadership needed for a local group to survive and thrive. In areas covered by AMP, we sponsor a Statewide Leadership Network program that supports leaders in efforts to organize more school employees and attract enough membership to support a full local union.

We know that for educational employees to achieve the best representation possible, a local union is essential. A major responsibility of field staff with Texas AFT is to support members wanting to lead local unions, taking charge of operating largely independent and autonomous units in their particular school districts. This Texas AFT support system allows local members to progress at their own pace until they are ready to assume the responsibilities and privileges of having their own local. It is a proud day for these local members when they are awarded a charter number from the American Federation of Teachers.

What are some of the benefits of membership in Texas AFT?
The advocacy program of a local is probably the most important benefit of membership in a local union. The union offers much more than professional liability insurance or consumer discounts. The union is a change agent working to transform the nature of the workplace for all educational employees. We believe that employees have a right to an organization that belongs to them free of administrator influence, one that strives to give them an equal seat at the table for decision-making about wages, hours, conditions of employment, and educational policy. Some core benefits of membership are yours whether you join in Houston, or Plano, or El Paso. Here is a summary:

  • Each Texas AFT member is insured with an $8,000,000 Occupational Liability Insurance policy. This is your professional educational worker insurance, to protect against lawsuits filed by a student or a student’s parents, when you are acting within the scope of your duties as a district employee. This includes $35,000 Legal Action Trust to protect against criminal incidents. It also includes civil rights violation claims.
  • Every member is covered by a Legal Defense Fund to protect against any employment related claim. This policy is funded as a joint venture between your chartered local, Texas AFT and AFT.
  • All Texas AFT members receive $25,000 Accidental Death and Dismemberment coverage through a policy held by AFT. Each member should fill out an AD&D beneficiary card and put a copy in his/her personal files. Please contact Texas AFT member benefits representative for a beneficiary card.
  • As a special gift for joining Texas AFT, new members can activate a $5,000 Term Life Insurance policy at no cost for one full year. At the end of one year you will be invited to continue the policies; the choice is yours. Sign up as soon as you join and start your coverage!

In addition to these benefits, you can save money and enjoy a long list of discounts on services for auto insurance, mortgages, car rentals, credit cards, theme parks and more. Some locals have secured other benefits from local vendors and service providers as well.

Can the union help me be a better teacher or school employee?
Yes. Texas AFT and many locals provide professional development classes throughout the year. Topics range from “Classroom Management” to “Bullying Prevention” and many aspects of state and federal laws. Texas AFT has a long tradition of helping teachers learn more about their profession and how best toassist their students in learning. Texas AFT also sponsors workshops of interest for all employees, such as health-and-safety classes for support personnel. Many districts have worked directly with Texas AFT, which provides professional development, mentoringprograms, andassistance for low-performing schools.

 

Why should I join Texas AFT?
Texas AFT is the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—a national union with 1.4 million members. The organization represents educational employees, some other public employees, and nurses throughout the country. The national officers of AFT are elected in even-numbered years by delegates elected to its national convention. AFT is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, the AFL-CIO. When you join your local union of AFT, you automatically become a part of both the statewide Texas AFT and the nationwide American Federation of Teachers.

It is important to belong to an organization that can represent your interests at all levels, not least at the national level. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act on the federal level affects every educational employee in the country. AFT is headquartered in Washington, D.C., giving voice to our concerns about NCLB and pursuing our interests in the federal Department of Education rule-making process. AFT also continues to pursue passage of the Social Security Fairness Act that would remove penalties suffered bymanypublic employees on both their own earned Social Security benefit and their spousal benefit.

Our affiliation with the national AFL-CIO also serves your interest. Ten million working Americans are members of 55unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO. We joinwith those members as partners in a movement that wants fair treatment for all workers. These AFL-CIO members are the parents of the children we teach. They are our natural allies, and we likewise support their efforts to secure decent wages, hours, and conditions of employment in their workplaces.

How do I join Texas AFT?
When you join one AFT local affiliate or the Professional Educators Group for district without a local union, you automatically become a member Texas AFT and the American Federation of Teachers. See “Links for Locals” at www.texasaft.org to see a list of local unions, or call 800-222-3827 to find out more about joining and dues amounts.

Each local union of the AFT has a somewhat different program geared to its resources and the needs of its local members. For example, the 8,500-plus members of the Dallas local—Alliance/AFT—have 26 full-time local employees and own their own 19,000-square-foot building. Consequently, Alliance/AFT is able to conduct extensive training and professional development programs. The more members and/or the higher the local dues, the more services a local union can provide for its members.

How much does Texas AFT membership cost?
You can obtain membership in AFT for as little as $110 per year. This affordable membership is referred to as the Texas AFT Professional Educator Group (PEG) membership. It is specially designed to serve the needs of teacher employees in districts that don’t yet have an AFT local union. Call 800-222-3827 to see if you have a local union for your district or if you are instead eligible for PEG. School district payroll deductions for professional organization dues are available to members as a matter of state law, so you may choose to have your dues paid in small payments from each paycheck.

For full-service Texas AFT local union membership, the cost of membership will vary depending upon local dues and the month in which you join. The member pays all of the dues to the local, and the local forwards a percentage of “per capita” payments to the state and national affiliates (at a rate determined democratically in state and national conventions). Again, the dues will vary, because a local union can set its own total dues amount in accord with the wishes of its local members. See “Links for Locals” at www.texasaft.org to see a list of local unions, or call 800-222-3827 to find out more about joining and dues amounts.

There is no calendar-year deadline to join the union, and members generally pay only the proportionate share of dues owed for a membership year. However, prospective members need to know that theycannot join the union and expect legalrepresentation regarding events or job-relatedproblems that precede their membership date. To explain by analogy, you can’t buy fire insurance after the building is ablaze.

Can the union use part of my dues money for contributions to candidates’ political campaigns?
No. Texas law explicitly forbids the use of union dues money to contribute to candidates for public office. Your membership in the union is sought after and welcome regardless of your political views, your membership, or your non-membership in any political party. Your political views are your business, and you are encouraged to decide public policy issues and vote as you wish.

Texas AFT, the Texas AFT Professional Educators Group, and some local unions have political action committees (PACs) to which you can contribute if you wish. (Some are named COPE, or Committee on Political Education). A typical PAC or COPE contribution is $1.00 or more per pay period. The union’s democratically electedgoverning board periodically reviews the records of candidates for public office and makes endorsements and contributionsfrom PAC/COPE fundsin support of those that have supported public education and public education employees. This is an important union program that is entirely voluntary and separate from activities supported by dues dollars.

How do I know that the Texas AFT local is the best organization to join?
It pays to shop. We believe that we are the best. We are different than most of the other organizations that you might join, but we might not always be the cheapest. We ask you to take the long view of what is best for public education and for you as a career employee.

If you believe that it is important to have strong representation at the national, state,and local levels, then the Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA) and the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), with state-only membership platforms, don’t measure up.

If you believe that it is difficult or even impossible for an organization to represent both administrators and non-administrators at the same time, then membership in ATPE is not an option. ATPE accepts principals, superintendents, and other administrators as members—the very same peoplewith whomyou may have a conflictthat needs resolution. Would you hire a lawyer to defend you who was also employed by the prosecution?

If you believe that it takes a campus team to educate a child, and that the team includes all non-supervisory personnel on your campus, including the bus driver, the cafeteria worker, the custodian, and other support personnel, then the TCTA is not for you, since those employees are not accepted as members.

If you believe that even members in areas too small, too remote, or without available strong local leadership deserve some opportunity to join a union at a dues amount they can justify, then you will appreciate the Texas AFT Professional Educators Group. The Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA–a state affiliate of the National Education Association) does not support such an approach.

If you believe passionately in public education as the very bedrock of democracy, believe that democracy deserves to be extended into the workplace to include collective bargaining for all educational employees, and that you get what you pay for, then you will be at home with membership in Texas AFT.

How will I know that I am a member?
You will receive a membership packet of information about benefits within a month of joining. You will also begin to receive local, state, and national publications, some targeted to your particular employment classification. If you don’t hear from us, please call your local or state affiliate (1-800-222-3827) and they will make sure that your contact information is up to date and these resources and publications are on their way to you.