The first major teachers strike of 2019 is over. The union in Los Angeles reached a deal this month with the second-largest school district in the country that calls for higher pay, smaller class sizes and more support for students.
Don’t expect it to be the last teacher job action of the year. In Oakland, Calif., and Denver, teachers are likely to strike, and in Virginia, teachers are marching Monday in the state capital to demand higher pay and more money for public schools.
Educator unrest may not stop there.
This could become the second year in a row when teachers across the country go on strike, demanding higher pay and more resources for their schools. And they may do that even in states where it is illegal for public employees to do so.
The wave of strikes in 2018 started in West Virginia and became known as the Red for Ed movement, because most of the labor actions were in Republican-led states. Los Angeles, of course, is “about as blue as you can get,” as United Teachers Los Angeles union leader Alex Caputo-Pearl said. It shows that low teacher pay and inadequate school resources are a bipartisan problem.
“There is something pretty profound about that,” he said in an interview. Caputo-Pearl said the Los Angeles teachers strike was the first major labor action since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case, which declared it unconstitutional for public-sector unions to collect membership dues from nonunion members, even though those members benefit from collective bargaining agreements.
After that ruling, labor leaders warned that instead of union activism waning, it could increase as teachers unions move to re-create themselves and take new stands. Caputo-Pearl pointed to the strike in Los Angeles as proof.
“There is a real gravity to it in terms of what kinds of actions the labor movement is going to need to take to show that we are fighting, to show that we are willing to be bold, to show that we are willing to work with parents and community and share the steering wheel with them,” he said. “This seems profound as to foreshadowing what the labor movement needs to do to go forward.”
In Oakland, a few thousand teachers could strike next month after working without a new contract since July 2017 and with no deal in sight between the union and the school district. What do they want?
The Oakland Unified School District has offered teachers a 5 percent raise over three years, but the Oakland Education Association is seeking a 12 percent boost over the same time period and some of the same improvements Los Angeles teachers demanded: smaller class sizes; and more counselors and nurses in public schools.
In Denver, teachers failed to reach a deal on a contract with the school system last week after the old contract expired Friday. They are holding a strike vote, which is expected to pass. What do they want?
The demands by Denver teachers revolve around boosting pay, which some educators say is not enough to live on without a second job. Last year, thousands of Colorado teachers went on strike for 2½ weeks over compensation.
In Indiana, where pay for teachers is below the national average, educators have pushed for lawmakers to increase salaries and school funding during the 2019 legislative session. Union leaders are not ruling out a strike. Last year, they decided not to join the strikes that spread from West Virginia to other states, including Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky.
The Indianapolis Star quoted union leaders as saying they would monitor the legislative session before deciding what to do. It said that although Indiana ranks about in the middle of states for teacher pay and class size, inflation-adjusted salaries for Indiana teachers dropped by more than 13 percentage points over the past 15 years. Indiana has one of the lowest per-pupil funding levels in the nation.
Teachers in Virginia were rallying in Richmond, calling for expanded public education funding after years of budget cuts. According to Virginia Educators United, a grass-roots coalition of teachers and other community members, the state legislature could approve all of the investments called for by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and state spending would still be down 7 percent per student from 2009 (in constant dollars). That means, it said, the state would have to invest another $500 million in 2020 to spend the same per student as in 2009 in constant dollars.
Though it is illegal for public employees to strike in Virginia, the same was true in some of the Republican-led states where teachers walked out last year. A Democratic state legislator has introduced a measure that would repeal bans on public employee strikes in Virginia.
And in Chicago, teachers at four charter schools are threatening to strike Feb. 5 if they can’t reach a contract settlement with Civitas Education Partners, operator of a charter network in the city.
Most charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, are not unionized, and the teachers often make less than their counterparts in traditional school districts. Charter school strikes were unheard of until last year, when the first such labor action was mounted in Chicago by teachers at 15 charter schools operated by the Acero network. A deal was reached that gave teachers salary increases, sanctuary for undocumented students and other concessions.
The second strike at a charter system unfolded last week, when teachers at the Accelerated Schools charter network went on strike in Los Angeles alongside the striking district teachers. They reached a settlement several days after the district did.