Mississippi Teachers Gain Pay Raise, End Strike
Mississippi teachers last week ended a wildcat strike after the legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto and approved a three-year, $4,400 pay raise for them.
The three-stage increase will cost an estimated $67 million.
At its height, the strike had affected more than 175,000 students in 58 of Mississippi's 154 school districts. Some 9,429 teachers walked off their jobs in recent weeks, according to the department of education. The last group of striking teachers went back to work on Thursday, according to the Mississippi Association of Educators, the state's largest teachers' organization.
Change of Plan
The teacher walkouts had spread despite a court order prohibiting such action. On March 13, the mae urged all teachers--union members and nonmembers alike--to strike beginning March 18.
But last week, the union asked teachers to return to the classroom, after a Hinds County judge found the mae's 22-member board of directors in criminal contempt of court. The board members were given a two-day suspended jail sentence and fined $250 each, according to George Brown, a spokesman for the association.
Mr. Brown said the mae called the teachers back to work because its leaders feared that the judge was about to take punitive action against striking teachers as well as board members.
The union also called off the strike because, at the time, Governor William A. Allain was considering the legislative pay package. Union members had hoped that the Governor would sign the bill if the teachers were not on strike.
Governor Allain vetoed the bill last Monday, citing its high cost, but legislators overrode that veto Tuesday by votes of 46 to 3 in the Senate and 104 to 16 in the House.
The bill provides a $2,400 raise for teachers next year; a $1,000 raise in the second year; and an average $1,000 raise in the third year, which will be paid on the basis of a merit-pay system that has not yet been devised.
A variety of tax increases will raise roughly $77 million to pay for the bill. These include increased taxes on beer, wine, liquor, and cigarettes; a sales tax on soft drinks and syrup and on the manufacturing of machinery or parts; an industrial and railroad fuel-tax increase; a contractors' tax increase; and a sales tax on computer software sales and services.
The bill also contains what the mae terms "some very punitive language" regarding strikes. It requires that striking teachers be fired and prohibits any public-school district in the state from hiring a teacher fired for striking, unless a court "first finds a public necessity."
Local school boards and administrators will be fined $100 to $250 per day for every day that they fail to report the names of striking teachers to the state attorney general. Teachers' unions could be fined up to $20,000 per day for failing to comply with an injunction banning strikes.
The same no-strike provisions apply, "as far as is practicable," to all other public employees, according to the bill.
Mr. Brown said the union will fight the no-strike language in the legislature next year and push for a state health-insurance subsidy for teachers.
Mississippi Attorney General Edwin L. Pittman said last week that he would ask the Hinds County judge to lift a court order that withheld state funds from districts whose teachers went on strike. Because teachers plan to complete a full year's contract, Mr. Brown said, they will eventually earn back any money that they lost because of the strike.