The unseen benefits of membership

How union membership affects us in way we don’t always see

Join your union. 

Those three simple words may seem odd as a start to an article in a union publication. The fact that you are reading this and not just recycling it probably means you are a pretty active member. So why do you need to hear those words? Well, many of us, even some of the most active members, may see those union dues each month and ask a few questions. “Why do I pay this much?” “What do they even do with that money?” or “Why should I contribute?” Throughout this article, I hope to provide some answers to these questions. How? By talking about the benefits of membership—those that we see every day, but especially those we may never get a chance to see directly.

There are some benefits to being a union member that we can see all the time. As members of NJEA, we have access to NJEA Member Benefits, including such programs as Buyer’s Edge to save money on everyday appliances. We also get access to the Deals App to save money on everyday purchases. Members can get discounted auto and home insurance through California Casualty and much more. (See Taking advantage of many of these benefits could help you save on your monthly budget, however, there are some benefits to being in a union that we sometimes don’t see until we need them.

How often do you think about the smoke detectors in your home? What about your carbon monoxide detector? These are things in our home that we always want, but only periodically check to make sure they are working. 

Union membership protects you in similar ways. If issues come up with administration, you have union representation with you to help guide you. The union can even provide you with a lawyer in the worst-case scenarios. Most members will never need this, like most people will never use their smoke alarm for its intended purpose. However, like a smoke alarm, you want it there when the worst happens. 

Having that kind of representation not only helps you when issues arise, but it also helps prevent frivolous issues from coming up as the administration knows that the union has your back.

On an even higher level, the union has your back in Trenton. Now, no one likes to talk politics, but the reality is that as public workers our pay, our benefits, the funding for our schools, and the rules and regulations guiding the work we do are all determined through a political process. The union has your back in the political dealings that arise at the national, state, county and local level. 

There’s a commonly quoted sentiment that “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” A strong state union with many active members ensures we stay off the menu. Union membership gets its strength from numbers and being a member not only helps you, but also helps your fellow members. In fact, a study published in Sage Journals by Eunice S. Han, assistant professor at the University of Utah, in 2019 found that “union membership raises base salary by 7% to 9%, decreases contract days by 1%, and reduces working hours by 2%. A 10% increase in union density within districts raises base salary by 1% to 1.5%, reduces contract days by 0.2%, and decreases working hours by 0.4% to 0.5%.”

Union membership is always worth it. It can save you money in the short term, it can save your job in the long term, and it can give you strength by standing hand-in-hand with your fellow members. 

Join your union. 

Brian Harkavy is a music teacher at Berkeley Township Elementary School. He can be reached at