13,500 Teachers Out on Strike In 38 Districts
As schools opened around the country last week, 38 districts reported strikes--three fewer than were reported at the same time last year, according to figures from the National Education Association (nea) and the American Federation of Teachers (aft).
One possible reason for the relative calm, according to Albert Shanker, president of the aft, may be that "there's more money around," and hence less chance that negotiations will reach an impasse over financial issues. Union leaders also said that lower rates of inflation and talk of school reform have helped reduce the number of strikes.
As of the middle of last week, about 225,000 students and 13,200 teachers in eight different states were affected by the strikes. The nea reported 32 strikes involving about 140,000 students and 8,000 teachers, and the aft reported six strikes involving about 85,000 students and 5,200 teachers.
Threatened strikes in Pittsburgh and Chicago, however, had been averted by mid-week, and schools were open in those districts. But in St. Louis, negotiations broke down, and the first day of school was staffed mainly by administrators while about 3,200 teachers struck. Class sizes, salary levels, and the elimination of arts and physical-education classes were some of the issues that prompted the St. Louis strike, an aft spokesman said.
In Boston, 4,000 teachers represented by the Boston Teachers Union rejected a contract proposal but voted to stay on the job without a contract. New negotiations between the union and the school district were scheduled to begin early this week. One issue is salary; the school board is offering a 3-percent increase for this school year, but the union is seeking a greater increase.
Classes in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York also began last week, although a contract agreement had not yet been reached. Some 3,000 lay teachers, who are represented by two unions, have been working without a contract since Aug. 31, and the unions have authorized a strike. The average salary for teachers in the archdiocese is $11,000 a year, according to the Federation of Catholic Teachers, one of the teachers' unions.
In the Pittsburgh district, 3,600 teachers ratified a new contract during a Labor Day negotiating session that concluded only a few hours before the Sept. 6 strike deadline. The first day of school was cancelled, but classes began the next day.
Michigan reported the largest number of strikes of any state--22; Washington State reported five. Most of Michigan's strikes were in small districts, an nea spokesman said; the largest were in the East Detroit, Saginaw, and Ann Arbor school districts. Union officials said they had expected problems in Michigan and Washington, both of which are beginning to recover after serious economic depressions. Having foregone raises during the fiscally tight years, teachers are now asking for some "catch-up" money.
Other states with districts on strike last week were: Rhode Island, four strikes; Pennsylvania, two strikes; New Jersey, one strike; Illinois, two strikes; and Ohio, two strikes.--ha