Teachers’ unions represent the more than 3.2 million full-time teachers in more than 130,000 K-12 schools across the United States. The largest union, the National Education Association (NEA), has 3 million members. About 70% of teachers belong to a teachers’ union. Unions have influence:

Thought Co/Teachers’ union strike via thoughtco.com

In terms of influence, unions shape public policy through the number of members (who pay dues) and the amount of political contributions that they are able to send to political campaigns or to lobby for specific policies and bills. The idea is that all that political spending then trickles down to improve working conditions for teachers, and learning for students.

The Most Influential Teachers’ Unions

It is important to note that, while every state has a teachers’ union, the power of each state’s union is not the same. Some states allow collective bargaining and some don’t. And the political makeup of each state will impact how far a union’s influence can go as well, as the majority of political contributions from unions go to Democratic or liberal candidates and issues.

The two largest unions with the broadest reach are the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. But in terms of dollars spent on political campaigns and lobbying, you don’t have to be federal or even state-level to spend big bucks. Here’s how the top teachers’ unions in the country—federal, state, and city—shake out.

(Note, membership information was sourced from Zippia.)

1. California Teachers Association (CTA)

teachers carrying a sign that says california teachers association (teachers union)
Ed Source/California Teachers Association via edsource.org

Location: Burlingame, CA

Members: 310,000

Membership: The CTA is an NEA affiliate with 500 offices across California.

Current president: David Goldberg

Political contributions: According to Public Union Data, the CTA has spent more than $222,940,629 in political contributions.

Federal political spending: $5,969,652

State political spending: $216,970,978

Notable political positions: Charter schools, immigration reform, school safety, and social justice are top advocacy issues for the CTA.

2. National Education Association (NEA)

three union leaders talking to a student (teachers union)
National Education Association/About NEA via nea.org

Location: Washington, DC

Members: 3,000,000

Membership: The NEA is the largest teachers’ union and the largest white-collar labor union in the country. It serves not only teachers, but aspiring teachers, education support staff, higher-education teachers and professors, and retired educators.

Current president: Becky Pringle

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the NEA has spent $191,315,888 in political contributions.

Federal political spending: $85,895,219

State political spending: $105,420,669

Notable political positions: The NEA has supported public child nutrition programs, the Common Core State Standards, and opposed vouchers.

3. American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

American federation of teachers union members walking and holding blue shirts
American Federation of Teachers/Teachers standing together via aft.org

Location: Washington, DC

Members: 1,700,000

Membership: In addition to teachers, the AFT also serves college faculty, healthcare workers, and paraprofessionals. The union is a member of the AFL-CIO.

Current president: Randi Weingarten

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the AFT has contributed more than $86,914,628 in political contributions.

Federal political spending: $62,838,329

State political spending: $24,076,298

Notable political positions: The AFT focuses on preserving privileges for teachers and is a defender of tenure policies that make it difficult to remove teachers.

4. Illinois Education Association (IEA)

Stronger United logo for the Illinois Education Association teachers union
IEA NEA/Stronger United via Youtube

Location: Springfield, IL

Members: 130,000

Membership: The IEA is an NEA affiliate.

Current president: Al Llorens

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the union spent $27,778,079 on political spending.

Federal political spending: $0

State political spending: $27,778,079

Notable political positions: The IEA had a significant win in 1983 with a new collective bargaining act. Since then, it has focused on equitable school funding and changes in teacher evaluation.

5. California School Employees Association (CSEA)

woman wearing a california school employees association shirt
Newsbreak/CSEA shirt via newsbreak.com

Location: San Jose, CA

Members: 250,000

Membership: The CSEA is the California AFT affiliate. It has 100 regions across California and primarily serves non-certified school employees.

Current president: Adam Weinberger

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the CSEA has spent more than $26,736,530 on political contributions.

Federal political spending: $1,802,932

State political spending: $24,933,598

Notable political positions: The CSEA is focused on supporting labor-friendly political candidates and fighting bills that cut education spending.

6. Ohio Education Association (OEA)

front of the ohio education association teachers union sign
My Fox 28 Columbus/OEA sign via myfox28columbus.com

Location: Columbus, OH

Members: 120,000

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the OEA spent $22,101,092 on political contributions.

Federal political spending: $1,159,500

State political spending: $20,941,592

Notable political positions: The OEA is focused on policies that increase school funding, address teacher shortages, and improve well-being of teachers and staff.

7. Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT)

man wearing pins that support the Illinois federation of teachers teachers union
Illinois Federation of Teachers/Man wearing pins via Ift-aft.org

Location: Westmont, IL

Members: 103,000

Membership: The IFT is the AFT affiliate for Illinois teachers.

Current president: Daniel Montgomery

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the union has spent $19,196,919.

Federal political spending: $10,000

State political spending: $19,186,919

Notable political positions: The union works to protect bargaining rights, provide full equitable school funding, and protect teachers’ jobs.

8. Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA)

PSEA sign that says leadership for public education (teachers union)
PSEA CW Region/Sign via Facebook

Location: Harrisburg, PA

Members: 187,000

Membership: The PSEA is one of the oldest unions and is an NEA affiliate. It includes teachers as well as healthcare workers, school nurses, social workers, and retirees.

Current president: Aaron Chapin

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the PSEA has spent more than $18,473,369 on political contributions.

Federal political spending: $75,000

State political spending: $18,398,369

Notable political Positions: PSEA was a supporter of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, and has most notably opposed expanding school choice policies including vouchers and charter schools.

9. New York State United Teachers (NYSUT)

New york teachers union menbers holding signs
Americans for Fair Treatment/Union members holding signs via americansforfairtreatment.org

Location: Albany, NY

Members: 612,000

Membership: The NYSUT is associated with the NEA and AFT and is the largest state-level teachers’ union. It works mostly in New York but also has lobbied in Washington, DC. NYSUT also includes the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the main New York City teachers’ union with more than 140,000 teachers and education employees.

Current president: Melinda Person

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, NYSUT has contributed more than $18,011,916 in political contributions.

Federal political spending: $116,000

State political spending: $17,895,961

Notable political positions: NYSUT is involved in grassroots initiatives to support liberal public policies. It has supported a high-wealth tax for education funding and regulating charter schools.

10. Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA)

teachers standing outside massachusetts capital
Boston Herald/Teachers via bostonherald.com

Location: Quincy, MA

Members: 115,000

Membership: The MTA is the oldest teachers’ union, founded in 1845. MTA is an NEA affiliate.

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the MTA has spent $15,820,759 on political contributions.

Federal political spending: $2,212,274

State political spending: $13,608,485

Notable political positions: In 2020, the MTA supported the Student Opportunity Act that provides $2 billion per year in additional funding for public schools. Recently, the MTA has lobbied in support of the Fair Share Amendment, which would tax 4% of earnings of $1 million.

11. Michigan Education Association (MEA)

MEA sign that says my union is my voice
WBCK FM/Union sign via wbckfm.com

Location: East Lansing, MI

Members: 120,000

Membership: The MEA is an NEA affiliate. The union was known for aggressive bargaining in the 1970s, but recent right-to-work legislation has resulted in a reduction in membership.

Current president: Chandra Madafferi

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the MEA spent $12,481,224 on political contributions.

Federal political spending: $15,000

State political spending: $12,466,224

Notable political positions: The MEA opposed privatization of school services and school choice efforts.

12. Florida Education Association (FEA)

Florida education association teachers union members marching holding a sign that says fund public schools fund our future
Education Next/FEA March via educationnext.com

Location: Tallahassee, FL

Members: 150,000

Membership: FEA is an affiliate of both NEA and AFT.

Current president: Andrew Spar

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the FEA has spent more than $11,402,342 in political contributions.

Federal political spending: $111,000

State political spending: $11,291,242

Notable political positions: This union was the first to lead a statewide teachers’ strike in the United States. Teachers started a strike in 1968 for higher pay, better benefits, and improved facilities. The FEA advocates for increased pay and benefits, it sued the state saying the state-funded vouchers program was unconstitutional, and it supported the governor’s decision to replace the Florida Standards Assessments.

13. New Jersey Education Association (NJEA)

members of the new jersey education association teachers union
NJEA/Members via njea.org

Location: Trenton, NJ

Members: 200,000

Membership: NJEA is an NEA affiliate with 22 offices around New Jersey.

Current president: Sean Spiller

Political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the NJEA has spent more than $5,585,919 on political contributions, all of it at the state level.

Federal political spending: $0

State political spending: $5,585,919

Notable political positions: NJEA has supported decreased use of standardized testing, increasing public school funding, and higher salaries and benefits for educators. It has also advocated for a taxpayer-funded child-care program in New Jersey.

14. Chicago Teachers Union (Local 1) (CTU)

teachers striking with chicago teachers union
CTU Local 1/Teachers strike via CTUlocal1.org

Location: Chicago, IL

Members: 30,000

Membership: The CTU is an AFT affiliate. It is the third-largest local teachers’ union in the country and the largest local union in Illinois.

Current president: Stacy Davis Gates

Total political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the CTU spent $4,092,883 in political contributions.

Federal political spending: $0

State political spending: $4,092,883

Notable political positions: The CTU is known for its aggressive political efforts, including strikes and marches and for collective bargaining around teachers’ wages and working conditions.

15. United Teachers Los Angeles (Local 1021) (UTLA)

Los angeles teachers union strike
Francine Orr/Teachers strike via latimes.com

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Members: 35,000

Membership: UTLA is a merger of AFT and NEA membership.

Current president: Cecily Myart-Cruz

Total political contributions: According to Public Union Facts, the UTLA spent a total of $1,626,966.

Federal political spending: $336,974

State political spending: $1,289,992

Notable political positions: The UTLA is particularly opposed to charter schools, which is notable as Los Angeles has the largest network of charter schools.  

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Read why teacher pensions are failing educators.