For Springfield Elementary, the result of the strike was hiring substitute teachers ranging from the school’s “Groundskeeper” Willy to the senile community member Jasper Beardly to keep the kids in school. After about 22 minutes, the strike was resolved with the school renting out space for jail cells in the back of classrooms to bring in more revenue.
Jump forward 17 years later and the mid-’90’s episode again becomes relevant to social issues of today, with Chicago teachers striking this week for the first time in 25 years. This real-life scenario, however, isn’t getting many laughs.
On Friday the strike went onto its fifth day, leaving parents hard-pressed to find places for more than 350,000 children to spend time during the ballpark time of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. as well as any after-school and transportation.
Chicago Teacher’s Union Chief Karen Lewis said in a press release Thursday, “We are optimistic but we are still hammering things out. ... Talks are ongoing. We’ve made progress in some areas, but still we have a way to go. Teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians remain hopeful but energized.”
One of the oldest teacher’s unions in the U.S., the CTU has been in place for 75 years, and while www.unions.org reports Georgia is affiliated with about 50 national
and international unions, there are no teachers unions in the state.
Despite the existing unions in Georgia supporting the interest of workers in various trades ranging from auto, steel and cement industries, a 1947 law prohibits calling for a union-backed strike in which all members are required to participate.
Title 34, Chapter 6, Article 1 of Georgia code states, “It shall be unlawful for any person, acting alone or in concert with one or more other persons, to compel or attempt to compel any person to join or refrain from joining any labor organization or to strike or refrain from striking against his will by any threatened or actual interference with his person, immediate family, or physical property or by any threatened or actual interference with the pursuit of lawful employment by such person or by his immediate family.”
In other words, while the state has teacher organizations like the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Georgia Association of Educators, these aren’t considered unions, and in general, the law prohibits a labor organization to push for a strike from its members. If local teachers are unhappy with working conditions and policies, they don’t have the legal standing to strike as a union and therefore would have no job protection if they opted to walk out of the classroom or not show up to work.
Chicago school district officials said the main sticking points remained the city’s evaluation system and the union’s demands that laid-off teachers get top consideration for rehiring. The district worries that could result in principals being forced to hire unsuitable teachers.
The union says using student test scores to evaluate teacher performance is unfair, arguing that poor test results can be the result of poverty, hunger and other conditions beyond their control. Under an older proposal by the district, the union estimated that 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs within two years.
Opposite of Chicago, a law passed this past year in Georgia prohibits raises based on improved student performance on standardized tests. Such an incentive was blamed as a precursor for Atlanta City Schools facing the biggest cheating scandal in U.S. history.
The recent vote of the Cartersville City Board of Education to privatize paraprofessionals and bus monitors left many upset, but the decision by the board could not result in an employee strike. These employees were left with the choice to work for the system via a private staffing agency or to not. There were no negotiations.
The average pay of a Chicago teacher is $74,236 versus Bartow County, where longtime teachers make less than $50,000.
Whether Chicago teachers are fighting for the right or wrong reasons can only be decided by those in the Chicago community, which greatly surpasses Bartow in terms of population, the number of schools and poverty.
Teachers have an obligation to their students that surpasses many obligations in the public sector and deserve support — something the state of Georgia and local communities apparently feel they can provide without the need for community or statewide teachers unions.
Working off the clock with students and parents, attending meetings and volunteering to chaperone school events while spending money out of one’s own pocket to support students is the norm for teachers. Most jobs in the public sector simply require a 40-hour workweek, with some jobs providing the same, if not greater, salary and benefits as a teaching position.
The unfortunate fact is as state and federal funding continues to be cut, local school districts have to do more with less while still providing quality education to the children of taxpayers and good teachers continue to find ways of making that idea work, often times at their own expense.
— The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Mark Andrews is the education reporter for The Daily Tribune News.