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Teacher Unions Right to Strike: A Discussion
The teacher union in New York City (UFT) is embroiled in contract negotiations, under New York State law expired contracts remain in “full force and effect” until the successor contract is ratified, the negotiations could conclude tomorrow or drag on for many months. All public employee contracts in NYC have expired; the police (PBA) have been without a successor contract for six years. Public employee labor relations are governed by the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) usually referred to as the Taylor Law. Thousands of public employee unions with hundreds of thousands of members fall under the law.
In Los Angeles non-teaching staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, aides, etc, announced a three day strike (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week) and the Los Angeles Teacher Union (UTLA), in the process of negotiating a contract agreed not to cross picket line. On Wednesday both sides announced a settlement was reached and all staff returned on Friday. The teacher contract remains unresolved.
At the last UFT Delegates Meeting a member moved to amend a motion by adding language to direct the UFT to pursue removing language from the Taylor Law that prohibits strikes. A union officer responded opposing the amendment: strikes, regardless of the law, remain an option, depending upon the situation. The motion was defeated.
Lets begin by looking across the nation, the right of teachers to form unions, bargain collectively and strike varies widely from state to state
Collective bargaining by public sector employees and therefore teachers is explicitly illegal in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. 12 states have explicitly stated that teacher strikes are legal. These states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.
The collective bargaining procedures under state law also vary widely:
*Thirty-four states use mediation, in which a third party attempts to broker an agreement between the two parties.
*Twenty-nine states use fact-finding procedures that allow an impartial panel to review both sides of the dispute, report their findings and occasionally make recommendations for settlement. Arbitration, in which an impartial party holds a formal hearing and determines a resolution, is similar to mediation, but the ruling of the third party is often binding and final.
*Twenty-one states provide for voluntary arbitration in which one side or the other can request a hearing. Three states mandate arbitration in which the two sides have to submit to a formal hearing.
State law regarding teacher strikes also varies widely:
Twenty-two states prohibit strikes and 13 states permit them. There are penalties for strikes in 13 states, which range from fines to dismissal to, in some cases, imprisonment.
How do the collective bargaining laws differ regarding strikes in California and New York?
From the California Teachers Association website,
If labor/management are not able to reach agreement, they can pursue impasse options provided in state law that may lead to a settlement. There may be four impasse options, and one or all could be used to settle a dispute:
Mediation. An impartial neutral person facilitates dialogue between the parties to help them create and reach a resolution.
Fact-finding. A neutral third party hears presented evidence from the parties and makes a formal nonbinding recommendation to the parties. The parties can either accept or reject the recommendation.
Interest arbitration. A neutral arbitrator conducts a formal hearing, analyzes the information presented, and makes a formal binding decision.
Strike. The union engages in a concerted collective action, through which its members withhold services in order to achieve a settlement. With thousands of education employee contracts bargained each year, fewer than ten, on average, result in a strike.
The New York State process is similar: with a major difference, if the parties cannot resolve a contract the state will provide a mediator, if the parties with the assistance of a mediator fail to reach an agreement PERB will assign a Fact finder to identity the issues and if the process is at impasse an arbitrator will conduct a formal arbitration hearing and publish a non-binding decision, strikes are prohibited.
At the end of the process in California teachers can strike, in NYS strikes are prohibited with harsh penalties
Has the right to strike resulted in higher salaries?
Is changing the Taylor Law to permit strikes a possibility?
I’ve made my pilgrimage to the Federationist Wall, to honor the Communards, who were lined up along a wall and shot, change is incremental, one block at a time until the wall falls. I regard strikes as possibility only in dire circumstances.
The last NYC teacher strike was in September, 1975, after months of negotiation, on the verge of the beginning of the school year, the union was debating striking or extending the contract for a month, at the time the union had a “no contract, no work” policy. Precipitously, very precipitously, the city laid off 15,000 teachers and the union when on strike with cries, of, “We won’t come back until we all come back.”
The City was planning to declare bankruptcy and walk away leaving the running of the City to a federal bankruptcy judge.
After a five day strike saner heads prevailed, the City and Union agreed, a shorter school day to allow schools to function with fewer teachers and the Union loaning the City money to avoid default.
Read a “blow by blow” account of the brinksmanship barely averting bankruptcy here..
Public education is under assault, Florida is diverting $4 billion tax dollars to school vouchers, any parent can receive vouchers for charter, private or parochial schools, and, Texas is not far behind. State after state prohibiting what can be taught, what can be read, a return to the McCarthyism of the 50’s; the teaching profession is fighting in the trenches of the culture wars.
As COVID struck we learned about Zoom, Google Classroom and other platforms and there are numerous discussions re artificial intelligence replacing teachers..
The battle is over the survival of public education,
If we were able to remove Taylor Law penalties, btw, highly unlikely, we would face an assault from the right, who would be our allies?
Fighting for contracts is at the core the role of unions; however, we shouldn’t concentrate our efforts on gaining the right to strike, to strike without onerous penalties; we should concentrate our efforts on improving the negotiating process within the Taylor Law.
Ability to Pay and Pattern Bargaining are not part of the law, in fact, they are malleable concepts, and currently are tipped in favor of management. Read here
Yesterday Randy Weingarten gave a national speech ,
“Attacks on public education are not new. The difference today is that the attacks are intended to destroy it. To make it a battlefield, a political cudgel,” and, among a number of policies to “ … renew and revive the teaching profession by treating educators as the professionals they are, with appropriate pay; time to plan and prepare for classes, to collaborate with colleagues, and to participate in meaningful professional development; and the power to make day-to-day classroom decisions.”
We have to build a crusade, teachers and parents and electeds and advocates to defend public education .or, we may not have a public education system to defend.