Re-Surging Teacher Strikes


Zavier Jobe, Staff Writer

In 2018, teachers strikes were just one of many protest movements that swept across the nation. In states such as West Virginia and Oklahoma, teacher unions voted to walk out on strike. They began in February of 2018, when teachers in West Virginia voted to walk out statewide and protest for higher wages and and a bigger education budget. According to the National Education Association, the average starting salary for a teacher in West Virginia before the strikes was $33,684. Teachers in West Virginia saw success in their walkout with a salary raise of 5%.

The success in West Virginia did not go unnoticed by teachers in other parts of the country, and teachers unions in other states also voted to walk out for similar reasons. Soon teachers in multiple states from Virginia to Arizona began protesting, implementing the same strategy used by teachers in West Virginia to enact change.

Some might have thought that the teacher strikes would have lost momentum by now, however the movement is gaining steam with protests in Los Angeles, and talks of new strikes in the rest of California, Denver, Virginia, and other parts in the country. In Los Angeles, the second largest school district in the country won a 6% pay raise, reduced class sizes, full time nurses and librarians, and an additional seventeen counselors district-wide.

Before the strikes, LA schools easily averaged about forty students per class, however the number will now be reduced by about four on average. In addition to this, most schools had no librarian and only could afford to hire a nurse for one day out of the entire week. This may not seem like much of a deal for students who are part of a middle or upper class household, however a large portion of students in the LA district live in homes that are near or below the poverty line. This means that many of those students rely on the school nurse to treat injuries since their parents cannot afford to take them to a doctor, and having to wait an entire week to see the nurse could have extremely negative side effects for their health.

It is no surprise that teacher strikes have the potential to sweep the nation again this year, as according to the National Education Association the average starting teacher salary is only $38,617. In Florida, the numbers are below average at $37,405. With the cost of living rising, some wonder why Florida teachers have not gone on strike already. The answer to that is because it is illegal, according to the Florida Constitution, and could come with potentially severe consequences. According to chapter 447.505 of the Florida Constitution, public employee organizations or anyone acting on their behalf are prohibited from participating in a strike or anything that looks like one. They also are barred from instigating strikes, or even supporting one. The punishment for teachers if they break this law is severe and they can potentially be fired, have their certification revoked, and lose all retirement benefits. Essentially teachers are having one of their most basic rights, the freedom of speech, stripped away from them.

Even the teachers’ union is scared to act as the law threatens a union organizing a strike with decertification, an inability to collect dues from members, and a penalty of $20,000 per day. Therefore, the teachers’ union of Florida is urging members not to join the protests across the country, out of fear of punishment. Some teachers in the state, in response to this, are asking what good a union does for them if it does not even fight for their basic needs. Some teachers are even organizing their own strikes, one such teacher being Nadia Zananiri who elaborated on the status of the unions fight, saying that she wish they did more “but they aren’t. … We have lost faith in our unions to accomplish anything.”

However, as stated before, teachers are not fighting for only themselves, but also for better learning conditions for their students, making their cause more appealing to everyday Americans. According to a poll from Phi Delta Kappan, 73% of Americans support teachers striking for higher pay, and two-thirds believe that teacher’s salaries are too low, while only a measly 6% believe that teacher’s salaries are too high.

However, even with broad support for higher funding of teacher’s salaries and education, politicians are still cutting the field. The tax cuts passed by the GOP in Congress in 2017 blew a $1.9 trillion hole in the deficit and required billions to be cut in education in order to be paid for. According to estimates, that would be enough money to fund free public college/universities 27 times over (the program has an estimated cost of $70 billion). Some have pointed to this fact to show that it is the priorities that the American government has taken when it comes to funding, rather than the cost, that has prohibited free, public college/university. In addition to that, according to the Tax Policy Center, 83% of that $1.9 trillion will go to the top 1% in the country over the next ten years. In opposition to a raise in teacher’s salaries, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls, this bill polls at a 36.1% approval among Americans.

Instead of going in the direction that most Americans want, the politicians seem to be uninterested in public opinion and continue to pass bills that run opposite of what the polls say. An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that teacher pay and funding for education should be expanded, but instead certain politicians are looting the treasury to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Teachers have caught on and have finally started fighting for the wages and budgets that they deserve.