Teachers in Republican strongholds are on the march because they have nothing to lose. Over the years, state lawmakers have stripped away school funding as well as the wages, pensions, workplace rights and health benefits of public school educators. They have had enough — and thanks to the unions and associations these educators belong to, they have a vehicle for collective action.
West Virginia teachers were the first to rise up — their nine-day walkout in February won them a 5 percent raise and a renewed effort by the governor to lower their health care premiums.
Since then, beleaguered public school educators in other states have taken a page from the West Virginia playbook. They have organized themselves and shared their plight on social media, including posting pictures of their working conditions. It’s been an education for those who have no idea what it’s like for teachers who work in right-to-work states led by anti-worker governors and legislators. Now they know: Teachers earn low wages and teach in overcrowded classrooms in decrepit buildings using battered, out-of-date textbooks. Their pensions and benefits are no longer protected.
These teachers are fighting not just for themselves, but for their students, their profession and the teachers of tomorrow.
That’s why the Arizona governor’s offer of a pay hike of 20 percent over three years was not enough to satisfy teachers in that state: They voted in favor of a statewide walkout on April 26 because they want pay hikes for school support staff and the restoration of the $1 billion the state has cut from schools.
In Oklahoma, many school districts have been forced to go to a four-day week to save money. A nine-day teacher walkout in April ended when the state Legislature, which had approved a $6,000 raise for every teacher, refused to budge on raising additional revenue for a more stable source of funding for education. Teachers have vowed to work toward defeating those legislators in November; some are running for office themselves.
In Kentucky, teachers have staged sickouts and rallied in their state Capitol. Lawmakers responded by passing bills that will raise millions of dollars more for education, overriding their governor’s veto. But the governor signed into law a measure that reduces the pensions of new teachers. Now there’s an effort underway to elect more teachers to the statehouse.
Teachers in these states are unlocking the power they hold when they stand together. It’s the power of unions.