Mission & History

About the Washington Teachers’ Union

The Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) represents more than 5,000 active and retired teachers in Washington D.C. WTU is dedicated to social and educational justice for the students of the District of Columbia and to improving the quality of support, resources, compensation and working conditions for the public servants and proud teachers who educate our students in D.C. Public Schools.

Our Mission

The mission of the Washington Teachers’ Union is to:

  • Raise the standards of the teaching profession by ensuring and promoting conditions vital to effective services for all students.
  • Define and strengthen services of the schools and to afford employees with a full opportunity to participate in the democratic decision-making process within schools for the common good.
  • Protect the legal rights of all members.
  • Provide and maintain, as the sole and exclusive collective representative for members of the bargaining units, the effective implementation of the collective bargaining agreements between the Washington Teachers’ Union and other employers.
  • Make employees aware of their political and social rights and responsibilities.

Our History

Since its inception over 60 years ago, the Washington Teachers’ Union has strengthened the education profession by ensuring equitable compensation, working conditions and resources for educators in the nation’s capital.

However, during the early 20th century many of these basic supports did not exist for educators in D.C. Public Schools. Many teachers were fired for being married and their duties were arbitrarily assigned by the school’s principal without extra pay.

In 1916, a group of teacher organizations came together to form the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Chicago, IL. Only three years later, one of the union’s first battles created a de facto tenure rule in Washington, D.C. After several early union triumphs in the 1930s, many teachers in nearby Prince George’s County left the school district for more favorable conditions in the District’s public schools.

In 1946, the Washington, D.C. Association of Attendance Officers organized AFT Local 867. Some believe that this unique organization, which was integrated in a segregated city, served as an early model prompting AFT to change their constitution two years later, essentially dissolving segregated locals. Under the leadership of Local 8 member and AFT Vice President Selma Borchardt, the Washington Teachers’ Union, as it is known today, was formed when the two AFT locals of Washington, D.C., Local 8 and Local 27, merged in June 1953.

With WTU’s remarkable growth and extraordinary influence, the Union became the sole bargaining agent for all of the teachers in the District. After a rough start, WTU secured a one-year contract in January 1968 that included a grievance procedure with binding arbitration, a duty-free lunch, planning periods for the elementary teachers and a school chapter advisory committee.

The fight, however, was far from over. When WTU President William Simons learned an area bus service advertised starting wages for new drivers with a high school education that was nearly $1,800 more than the starting salary of teachers with a college degree, he called for a one-day walk-out to lobby the United States Congress. As a result, Congress passed a bill giving teachers an 18% salary increase.

By the early 1970s, teacher shortages were beginning to affect D.C. Public Schools; as class sizes increased, the District failed to hire additional teachers. In a historic show of solidarity, thousands of WTU members went on strike on September 19, 1972 to protest the lack of funding and personnel. As a result, when the strike ended on October 2, D.C. Public Schools hired 182 new teachers, repaired crumbling buildings, and increased funding to buy more textbooks and supplies for students.

Despite being fined for mobilizing the strike, WTU arranged for the $50,000 striking penalty to be used as a scholarship fund for graduating seniors to attend college. WTU still awards $20,000 scholarships each year to four students who plan to pursue careers in teaching.