Military and Police

First Day of School Teachers Strike: Illegal, But They Do it Anyway

Parents are buying their kids Batman lunch boxes and Princess Sofia the First backpacks, and teachers are preparing their classrooms for the first day of school. Well, some of them are. That strange spectacle of teacher strikes at the opening of the school year are fast-approaching. It’s strange because in most states it is illegal for teachers to strike. It looks like only about a dozen U.S. states allow public school teachers to strike.

Whether legal or illegal, teachers do a disservice to their cause when they put parents’ and students’ lives into such chaos at an already stressful time. But, as we’ve learned over the years, the teachers’ unions don’t practice the care for kids they preach about. Individual teachers care about the kids, but unions as entities…not so much.

Another facet of this issue is trying to find stories in the mainstream media, at least in Washington State where I live, that even mention the illegality of the teachers’ strikes. At the search engine Bing.com, I entered “teacher strikes in 2018 Washington state” in the search field. I clicked on the first eight results. Within those results I searched for the word “illegal.” Not one hit in those eight top articles.

Just like police officers and firefighters, it’s against the law for Washington public school teachers to strike. In fact, it’s against the law for all public employees to strike. Yet, at least some school districts go out on strike almost every year.

Again, teachers’ unions always say it’s about the children but after all the years of the Washington Education Association’s (WEA) opposition to true education reforms and their promoting a biased progressive curriculum, I think the public knows better. It’s about the union and their political power—period. Former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna explains the strike this way: “Teacher strikes are illegal in Washington. They are not allowed under state law. The same goes for all public employees at the state and local level. The reason doesn’t matter. They’re not legal as a protest. They’re not legal for collective bargaining purposes. They’re not legal under any circumstances.”

Think about the lessons teachers are imparting to their students when they walk out—or don’t show up in the first place. Even though they know it’s against the law for them to strike, they strike anyway. I mean, this should surprise no one, since it’s leftists who primarily head public school unions and a majority of the membership also leans left. And, as we’ve established, leftists don’t feel obligated to follow laws they don’t like. Yet another example of the current multi-tiered justice system.

During my career the cops in my police department never went on strike. Seattle’s firefighters never went on strike. The firefighters in my wife’s fire department never went on strike. No police or fire department in the entire state goes on strike—it’s illegal. But teachers do it all the time.

So, the 5,000 education staff members represented by the Seattle Education Association may strike if no resolution is found by September 5th. This is, in part, thanks to a Washington State Supreme Court decision that reopened teacher contracts for most of the state’s school districts.

Let me be clear, negotiations are fine, but striking is not—because it’s against the law. When did the law stop mattering to Democrats?

To the contrary, despite the fact Seattle police officers have been working without a contract for some time now, they have not and will not strike. They understand their responsibility to the public. They understand their duty.

Coincidentally, there is movement in the labor contract stalemate. After nearly four years, the police union has finally arrived at a tentative agreement with the city that they will send to the membership for a vote. The teachers have no labor complaint approaching the police officer’s union’s grievance. Yet, they strike anyway.

The Washington State Supreme Court’s McCleary Decision has put pressure on the state legislature to “adequately fund” Washington’s public schools. The court periodically reviews and decides whether the adequate funding goal has been met. If it is not the court fines the state $100,000 per day, which goes to education. The court imposed such a penalty in 2016, accusing the state of not coming up with a plan to enforce the court’s ruling.

Since early 2014, the legislature has funneled billions of dollars to the state’s schools for teachers’ salaries. Still, the imprecision of the “adequately funded” decision has confused many in the legislature, school districts, and the public.

Washington Policy Center’s Liv Finne, director of Center for Education writes, “The Supreme Court’s McCleary decision has caused significant confusion among lawmakers, educators, parents and the general public. This January 2012 decision, written by Justice Debra Stephens, ruled the state legislature has failed to fulfill its paramount duty to ‘make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders…’” This mandate comes from Article IX Sec. 1 of the Washington State Constitution. But it doesn’t define ample. As we know, for leftists, no amount of funds are ever ample enough.

As I write this in August 2018, my brothers and sisters on the Seattle Police Department are still working under the same contract I did four years ago. Anyone think the state’s Supreme Court would ever order the “adequate funding” of law enforcement? Yeah, don’t hold your breath.

The reason it is illegal for police, firefighters, and teachers to strike is the state considers them essential due to the importance of their public missions. While cops and firefighters understand their responsibilities, teachers apparently don’t. Yet, I bet if you asked most teachers, they’d say they are indeed essential employees. When they fail to show up for work as promised, aren’t they proving they aren’t essential while also causing parents and students a ton of stress, including extra expenses? Collateral damage?

Oh, right…it’s for the children.

The problem, McKenna says, is there are no enforcement penalties in the law until a court issues an injunction, and teachers defy an order to go back to work. So, the unions stage walkouts either at the start of the school year or during the year in the middle of the week to inconvenience people the most to have the most impact.

This state legislature seems to have a problem with passing laws for which there are no mechanisms for enforcement. I recently wrote about a gun control citizen’s initiative whose validation process contained myriad flaws. Again, the secretary of state cited the inability to enforce the law because the legislature failed to include enforcement within the statute.

Unbelievable!

So, once on strike the teachers stay on strike until the school board asks a court for an injunction forcing the teachers back to work. The unions know they are on solid ground because most school boards are afraid of the unions and hesitate to go to court. Boards should request the injunctions immediately, but they don’t. Sometimes days or even weeks pass before a court issues an injunction. And, of course, because the unions know their strike is illegal, they have their members return to work. They broke the law, but they get away with it, and the pressure of the illegal strike forces school districts to buckle.

This situation is so ridiculous school boards often write “no-strike” clauses into contracts. Teachers are not allowed to strike by law, already. If they don’t follow the law, why would they follow a contract clause? And if they are not reasonable about following the law, why should they be about their demands on taxpayers?

Reportedly, one Washington school district teacher’s union began their bargaining by demanding a 35 percent pay raise. The district had offered what seems like a generous 15 percent hike, which it says it would have to secure a loan to pay.

In an effort to fight back against the union’s excessive demands, the head of the school board has published the union’s stipulations and their negotiation notes online, so the taxpayers can read them and be aware of what is being negotiated. After all, it’s the taxpayers who will pay for the hefty pay raises.

That’s the problem with public employee unions. Well, one of the problems. When public employees bargain and negotiate their contracts, they are doing so not with private businesses for a share of the profits but with their fellow Americans’ tax money.

George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO in 1955, said, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” Why is it impossible? James Sherk, in The New York Times, wrote, “The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers. F.D.R. considered this ‘unthinkable and intolerable.’”

So, even some of the most progressive Americans in our history saw the inherent flaw in public unions. But, since we do have them (and despite the unions’ weakening status), they’re likely to continue into the foreseeable future. So, can’t public employees at least follow the negotiated contract rules and laws that are in place? In other words, should it be so hard for our teachers to stop breaking the law?

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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