Between the nearly averted strike in Pittsburgh and statewide strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma, the validity of teacher strikes is once again up for debate. Here are four facts about teacher strikes in the commonwealth.
1. Pennsylvania remains the teacher strike capital of the US.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, 131 teacher strikes took place between 1999 and March 2018, averaging 7 strikes per year.* A Mother Jones magazine tally of teacher strikes reports 839 teacher strikes across America between 1968 and 2012. Some 740 of those—or 88 percent—occurred in Pennsylvania.
In fact, the Keystone State is one of only 12 states that legally permit teacher strikes. Banning teacher strikes, however, does not prevent them: West Virginia’s highly visible, statewide walkout from February 22 to March 6 occurred despite a prohibition on the practice. The West Virginian teachers’ success in forcing a pay raise has educators in other states such as Oklahoma joining the picket line.
Paying teachers well for hard work is not the issue. However, when property taxes are already high or student performance is stagnant, pay raises across the board may be both unmerited and unaffordable for a community. That’s why it is imperative that Pennsylvania make public school contract negotiations completely transparent from beginning to end, so taxpayers learn what offers are on the table before the bill comes due.
2. More than 25 percent of teacher contracts are up for negotiation this year.
Currently, 38 school districts have expired contracts, which lapsed between 2013 and 2017. Altogether, the districts represent about 8,000 classroom teachers and 115,000 students (this does not count the state’s second-largest school district, Pittsburgh, which at the end of February staved off a looming teacher strike). Another 126 school districts will see teachers’ collective bargaining agreements expire in 2018, starting on June 30.**
3. If you’re a union member who disagrees with a strike, you’re stuck.
If a full dues-paying teacher refuses to picket, the local Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) or the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers (PFT) union can penalize them. Through anecdotal evidence on PSEA, we have determined such penalties could range from no action, to loss of access to union strike funds, to fines levied on non-strikers.
In any case, the ill-will and animosity that builds before a strike could mean damaged professional relationships or an outright hostile work environment for union members who refuse to strike.
4. Fair share fee–paying teachers do not need to worry about strikes.
As a non-member, these teachers are not required to participate in any union actions. The union cannot refuse to represent them since unions lobby for the privilege of exclusive representation. Nor can union leaders reduce a non-union member’s pay or benefits. In other words, fair share fee members pay the union to cover the cost of contract negotiations and grievance resolution only—no more.
*Response to Right-to-Know request from Pennsylvania Department of Education, March 22, 2018.
**Total calculated from Right-to-Know responses to requests for school district collective bargaining agreements.