Teaching Profession

Picket Fencing

By Joetta L. Sack — December 21, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Once as familiar in the back-to-school ritual as falling leaves, teacher strikes seem headed for a winter freeze. About 15 of the National Education Association’s 14,000 local affiliates have gone on strike since the start of this school year, according to the nation’s largest teachers’ union. That’s consistent with recent years, which have averaged between 10 and 15 affiliate strikes, according to NEA data.

“We don’t keep hard numbers, but we have definitely seen fewer strikes” recently, agrees John See, a spokesman for the American Federation

of Teachers, the second-largest national teachers’ union. By contrast, the 1980s witnessed dozens of strikes annually. What’s more, most of this year’s job actions have been in small districts and have typically settled fairly quickly.

For example, in Pennsylvania—a traditional union stronghold— educators in the 3,300-student Pottsgrove district sat out 10 days in September over salary and health insurance issues before settling. While they had to agree to start paying a small, though slowly growing, share of their health insurance premiums, the teachers, who earned an average of $59,500 last year, also won a 2 percent annual raise over and above their yearly 2 percent step increases.

Pay and benefit increases may be alienating parents and voters with little hope of either.

In another pro-union state, teachers from Illinois’ 1,300-student Chicago Ridge district sat out eight days this fall. They won continued free primary health insurance and a 21 percent raise over four years in exchange for a half-hour extension to their official six-hour-10-minute day.

“What I see is that educators are starting to stand up and say, ‘We’re worth professional pay,’ ” says Carolyn York, the NEA’s manager of collective bargaining and member advocacy.Districts, she adds, are “looking at what it takes to recruit and retain new teachers.”

But some analysts suggest that it’s just such pay and benefits that have alienated parents and other citizens who might once have supported teachers’ strikes. Organized labor has lost clout, they argue, because, among other factors, the overworked public has become impatient with educators’ demands for benefits that have become scarce at most private-sector jobs. The poverty-level wages and decline of employee entitlements at such vanguard companies as Wal-Mart can make educators’ working conditions look rosy by comparison, according to Scott Treibitz, president of Tricom Associates, an Arlington, Virginia-based communications and consulting firm that specializes in education and labor issues.

“People are saying, ‘Forget you, teachers; if I don’t have it, I don’t want you to have it,’ ” Treibitz says.“Instead of a race to the top, where we have all good benefits, there’s this race to the bottom.”

But teachers often work many hours not accounted for in their contracts, and Gail Purkey, a spokeswoman for the AFT-affiliated Illinois Federation of Teachers, cautions that seemingly fat raises may be long- coming compensation for years of frozen or cut salaries.

“Teachers in many cases in previous negotiations may have given up a portion of a raise to keep health care costs down,” she notes. “Health care costs are rising everywhere, and districts are trying to deal with double-digit increases.”

But Treibitz counters that with more mothers working outside the home—sometimes for significantly less money than teachers make—parents must scramble to come up with often-expensive child care for the duration of a strike. Such costs, he says, do not endear the public to the plight of teachers. So while striking educators may win enough concessions to keep off the picket lines for a while, there may not be much public good will to support them in the long run, he warns. “The power of the strike has been diminished.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 01, 2006 edition of Teacher as Picket Fencing

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Validated by EdWeek, Not by My Administration
"I feel like public school in America is broken," writes a former teacher in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Most Americans Support Raising Teacher Pay. But There's a Partisan Rift
Public support for teacher pay raises is at its highest level in at least 15 years, an Education Next survey found.
6 min read
Illustration of woman jumping across piggy banks.
Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Opinion Searching for Common Ground: Rick and Pedro Go to the Movies
A few education-themed films aptly capture the fact that teachers are people with huge challenges in their lives.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Teaching Profession From Our Research Center 'Over It': Most Educators Say They Won't Mask This Fall
But teachers are more likely than administrators to keep masking, EdWeek Research Center survey data show.
7 min read
Image of a face mask on a school notebook.
Steven White/iStock/Getty