Seattle, Washington - Six thousand Seattle educators walked out on strike September 7, which would have been the first day of school. The top issue was the district’s proposal—disguised in social justice language—to end student-teacher ratios for many categories of special education. Also key were struggles over class size, cuts to services, and wages, especially for substitutes and paraprofessionals, who often work most closely with students with disabilities. Late in the day September 12 the bargaining teams announced a tentative agreement, but provided only a summary to members. On September 13, after eight hours of meeting on Zoom, members voted 57 to 43 percent to suspend the strike, even though they still hadn't seen the entire deal. They had voted before the strike to stay out until members approved a contract.
Seattle, Washington - Seattle teachers on Monday night expressed gratitude for "solidarity on the picket lines" and "enormous community support" that they received over the past week while on strike, as the city's teachers union announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the school district. The Seattle Education Association (SEA) said it had secured a new three-year contract including improved and maintained teacher-student ratios for special education classes, additional mental health staffing across all schools, and annual pay raises. "We should all be proud of what we accomplished and what we stood up for: student supports and respect for educators," said the SEA. "We made real progress not only in our contract but also in rallying with our community these past several weeks."
In 2012, I joined thousands of my fellow public school teachers in Chicago and walked off the job. After facing 30 years of corporate education “reform” that demonized teachers and led to massive privatization of public schools across the United States, teachers everywhere were ready to fight back. For many of us in Chicago, ahead of the 2012 strike, political developments had shown a range of possibilities for what that fighting back could look like. We had watched intently as protesters took over plazas in Tahrir Square to demand the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as well as the crowds occupying the Wisconsin statehouse to oppose Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union Act 10.
If you feel like your union needs a jump-start—whether you’re a longtime shop steward or just started your first union job—this book is for you. The impulse you have (“This union could be stronger and better, and I want to help change it”) makes you part of a long tradition—what we at Labor Notes affectionately call the trouble-making wing of the labor movement. One basic principle unites us troublemakers. We believe democracy, meaning broad member participation at every level of the union, is the heart of union power. The Chicago Teachers Union’s 2012 strike didn’t just put the union on the map; it gave a jolt of hope to the whole labor movement.
Ridgefield, Washington - Ridgefield teachers went on strike Friday after negotiators failed to reach an agreement with the Ridgefield School District on a new contract at a bargaining session Thursday night. “We're not doing this for just more money, we're not doing this because we're greedy, we're not doing this because we're lazy, we are doing this because we want to make a difference for our kids," said Joe Thayer a teacher with the Ridgefield School District. "I don't think what we're asking for is too much. I think that those issues are things that every parent and every family and every teacher could get behind. And I wish the all district leader ship was behind those also.”
Six thousand teachers and support staff in Seattle, Washington began a strike this morning, cancelling the first day of classes for 50,000 students in the state’s largest school district. The walkout followed a 95 percent vote by teachers, paraprofessionals and office workers to authorize strike action. The Seattle Education Association (SEA) did everything it could to reach a last-minute deal but was unable to prevent a strike. Union officials have pledged to continue talks to reach an agreement to bring teachers “back to the classrooms as fast as possible.” The union also dropped its initial opposition to the district’s demands for the intervention of a mediator.
Columbus, Ohio - Students, teachers, and support staff in Ohio's largest school district returned to the classroom on Monday after the Columbus Education Association won a new contract and ended its weeklong strike. Gathered at the local minor league ballpark on Sunday, CEA members voted 71% to 29% to approve a three-year contract with Columbus City Schools that satisfies most of the union's demands, which revolved around improving students' learning environments and opportunities. "We are so excited to get back to where we belong—our classrooms—doing what we do best: educating our students and shaping the future of our great city," CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes said at a press conference.
Chicago, Illinois - In late July, Lauren Bianchi and Chuck Stark, two teachers at George Washington High School on the Southeast Side of Chicago, were on the verge of losing their jobs. In what Chicago Teachers Union officers suspect was an act of retaliation from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Public Schools recommended that Bianchi and Stark be fired for their involvement in the student-, teacher-, and community-led effort to stop the relocation of the General Iron metal shredder from the wealthy Northside neighborhood of Lincoln Park to a site half a mile from their school. With the union and their community behind them, though, the Chicago Board of Education issued a stunning rejection of Chicago Public Schools officials’ recommendation to fire the two teachers.
We need more teachers. Good teachers. Well-trained and seasoned teachers. Teachers who are in it for the long haul. Many of the articles floating around about the teacher shortage focus on data—What percentage of teachers really quit, when the data is impenetrably murky at best? And how does that compare with other professions? In other words, how bad is it? Really? These articles often miss the truth: Some districts will get through the teacher shortage OK. And most districts will suffer on a sliding scale of disruption and frustration, from calling on teachers to give up their prep time to putting unqualified bodies in classrooms for a whole year, sometimes even expecting the real teachers to keep an eye on the newbies.
In March 2019, following numerous community pleas to curb graft among local police that had fallen upon deaf ears, residents of Kyere, Uganda tricked a notoriously corrupt police officer into a bribery arrangement. They caught him red-handed. Emerging from their hiding places in a community market, they seized the officer and arrested him—a man who had often used the same power of arrest to extort from them! This effective sting operation occurred without any of the usual police brutality toward activists. As democracy erodes at an Increasing Pace, slipping our species toward the normalization of authoritarianism, protesters are understandably exploring how they can stay safe. But reducing the risks of our nonviolent actions can also come at a cost—the cost of our power.
Brookline, Massachusetts - Striking has been illegal for public employees in Massachusetts since 1919. But in Brookline, a small suburb of Boston, we did it anyway. Out of a membership of 1,100, more than 900 signed in on the picket lines May 16. The strike culminated with a thousand educators descending on town hall for a rally with allies from around the state. Our bargaining team negotiated into the early hours of the next morning. When the sun rose, we had won two back-to-back three-year contracts with guaranteed prep periods for all educators, a fair pay raise including important changes to longevity structures, and language aimed at attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce. In short, we won all our demands with minimal compromise. Perhaps more important, we ended a cycle of disrespect and showed that we are willing to take collective action.
At the end of the school year, Annie Tan, a special education elementary school teacher in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, New York, said teachers typically have a party. This year, however, that celebration was mired by the loss of 16 teachers from her school who are being excessed (ie, moved to different schools and positions) as a result of massive public education budget cuts that are being enacted by the New York City Board of Education and Mayor Eric Adams’ administration. The loss of those teachers, and the resulting vacancies that will remain unfilled, means that Tan’s students will continue to not have an art program, and dual-language programs will be limited for students who are still learning English.
Los Angeles, CA - On June 6, Axel Brito, Hollywood High School Class of 2022 valedictorian, gave a powerful speech during his senior graduation ceremony at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. His speech is an indictment of the entrenched corruption within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) at the expense of quality education and services for students and the working conditions of teachers and school workers. Video footage of Axel’s speech has gone viral on social media, having been viewed over 2.6 million times on TikTok, over 24,000 times on YouTube and over 11,000 times on Instagram.
In the midst of an ongoing education crisis that disproportionately affects minority students and faculty, more troubling signs are on the horizon. A slew of new research shows that teacher burnout is high and that staff shortages, which were already straining the system in 2021, are likely to increase. The school districts which need the most help are most likely to suffer these effects, and the children who depend on them are the ones most likely to have faced significant learning challenges during the pandemic. “I am emotionally and mentally exhausted,” said Sobia Sheikh, a teacher at Mariner High School in Everett, WA. “For some of us, we’re fighting to just make it through the day.” She is not alone.
In Abbott Elementary, an ABC sitcom about an underfunded elementary school in Philadelphia, Quinta Brunson plays Janine Teagues, an enthusiastic 2nd-grade teacher who attempts to overcome every obstacle with her grit and determination — a flickering light in the back hallways, the perpetual lack of basic school supplies, a complicated reading software program. Barbara and Melissa, the older, more experienced teachers, remind her “to just worry about what you can control.” And for years, that’s what teachers have done. We’ve made do. Having kids paint with water, like Barbara, when there’s no money for paints. Ponying up pieces of our salaries to buy books for classroom libraries, highlighters for writing activities, pencils, food for hungry kids, printers, microphones, even textbooks. You name it, we’ve bought it.