Strikes Abating, But Labor Unrest Appears on the Rise

By Karen Diegmueller — November 20, 1991 3 min read
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Despite a slowdown of strike activity in recent weeks, other forms of labor unrest among teachers appear to be on the rise in several regions of the country.

As of late last week, the only strikes under way were in two Pennsylvania school districts. In addition, some 1,100 teachers in Trenton, N.J., were preparing to walk out Nov. 15 if negotiations had not progressed sufficiently.

A different type of tactic, meanwhile, was being used last week by teachers from suburban Washington communities, who are protesting cuts in education budgets by conducting job actions, typically by working strictly to the rules of their contract.

In Los Angeles, plans are also being readied to advise teachers to work to the rule, according to Catherine Carey, a spokesman for the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

“We don’t expect them to be at school any more than a minute before the bell or a minute after the bell,” said Ms. Carey. “Don’t volunteer any time. Don’t buy any more supplies.”

Los Angeles union leaders earlier this month recommended postponing any walkout vote until negotiators returned to the bargaining table to stave off a 4 percent pay cut.

Union members were scheduled to vote this week to decide whether to go along with the recommendation, strike as of Dec. 2, or accept the pay cut.

Strike Total Up

Since the start of the school year, the number of teacher strikes has far outdistanced last year’s pace. With the year not even half over, the nation is only five strikes shy of the total of 84 for the 1990-91 school year.

The heightened level of labor unrest is due to a feeling among educators that they are having to bear a disproportionate share of government spending cuts triggered by the recession, said Carolyn Wallace, the chief strike tracker for the National Education Association.

“They are having to resort to [such actions as] work to the rule to try to get the attention of state legislators and the federal government to let them know that funding to education must be increased,” she said.

Pennsylvania, the strike leader with a total of 33, has had more than twice the number of walkouts that it had last year at this time. Additionally, 78 contracts remain unsettled, twice the ordinary number for this time of year, according to George Badner, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

“There is the potential for 78 to go on strike,” he said.

In New Jersey, 140 contracts remain unsettled, among them Little Ferry, where striking teachers returned to work this fall under the threat of being fired by a state judge.

The 37 tenured teachers who walked out are now in jeopardy of having their tenure stripped, according to Debbie Scott of the New Jersey Education Association, who noted that affidavits have been signed alleging that the teachers are unfit to teach.

‘Not Perform the Extras’

Last week, teachers in Prince George’s County, Md., outside Washington, joined neighboring communities in working to the rule.

Teachers will be advised not to work beyond their 7.5 hour work day, local union officials said, and will be asked to refrain from calling parents on their own time, spending their own money on materials, and volunteering for committee assignments and extracurricular activities.

“We believe in living up to the spirit of the agreement. We will not perform the extras,” said Lewis Robinson, the executive director of the Prince George’s County Educators Association.

Next door in Montgomery County, Md., teachers in some schools have taken such steps as refusing students’ requests for letters of recommendation to colleges.

School boards in both districts withheld contracted pay raises this year after their county governments passed on budget cuts imposed on them by the state. The districts are now threatened with possible teacher furloughs.

“We understand there is some short-term pain involved in this,” said Richard Bank, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Association. “The guidelines we’re setting out are an inconvenience as opposed to any long-term damage. We believe that this is justified in order to raise public attention and ensure there is adequate funding for our school system in the future.”

Similarly, another round of potential cuts in Fairfax County, Va., also a Washington suburb, is making teachers there reconsider what has been a symbolic action: working to the contract one day a month.

“There is a growing sense of urgency among our members that we need to do more,” said Maureen Daniels, the president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. “The teachers are finally realizing they have done the typical teacher thing, which is to shield the kids from these budget crunches,” she said. “Therefore, the parent community isn’t necessarily aware as to how devastating this budget crisis can be.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 20, 1991 edition of Education Week as Strikes Abating, But Labor Unrest Appears on the Rise


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