One Year Later, Teachers Still Striking for Wage Increases

By FOCUS, a Leonine Business

A little over one year ago teachers across the nation began going on strike to protest chronically low wages, budget cuts, class sizes, and deteriorating schools and infrastructure. In the wake of the great recession and its associated across-the-board spending cuts, education budgets have failed to recover to the extent of other sectors. During this period a number of state governments also imposed wage freezes for government employees, some of which remain in place today.

The movement was sparked last February in West Virginia, where educators went on a statewide strike over their low salaries and won, securing a five percent raise for educators across the state. Teachers in other states across the nation took notice. Spurred by the success in West Virginia, the movement quickly caught on.

Following suit with similar strikes in 2018 were Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia. Like the first strike in West Virginia, nearly all of these protests were successful in some capacity, with most garnering the sought-after wage increases. In Arizona, where the protests were arguably the most successful, teachers were able to secure a 20 percent salary raise by 2020, as well as an increase for school support staff.

It should come as no surprise then, that in the wake of the success stories of 2018, such protests are continuing into 2019 and its associated legislative sessions. Virginia teachers again took to the streets to protest their wages – currently below the national average – and again won, with Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget containing a five percent increase, though the ultimate status of the budget remains in limbo between Governor Northam and legislative Republicans.

At the local level, protests have also erupted in Denver, Colorado and in Oakland and Los Angeles, California, as the movement began to take on a municipal aspect alongside the state-level protests. These strikes were, as their 2018 counterparts, hugely successful. In Denver, the teachers were able to secure a nearly 12 percent raise, while teachers in Oakland will see a 14 percent increase – double the initial offer of seven percent.

Also, in South Carolina, educators are making a concerted push in the state legislature this year for a 10 percent across-the-board salary increase, where teachers rank 38th overall in pay across the nation. As a result of the pressure, and seeing the effects of such strikes on other red states, lawmakers have begun to move quickly to appease teachers, with a compromise bill, HB 3759, currently making its way through the state legislature.

With these continued and successful strikes, teachers and their unions have proved themselves as a significant and effective force in lobbying state legislatures to have their needs met. Educators have not only been strategic in when to stage these strikes – holding them while both the legislature and public schools are in session – but also aggressive in using them to achieve their policy goals. While they have been successful in their push to win higher salaries, schools across the country remain chronically underfunded following the great recession. With the success they have seen so far through organized action, it is certain that teachers will continue to take to the streets in the future to ensure that their needs and the needs of their students are met.