WHAT IT IS
A union is a group of employees that band together to represent themselves opposite their employer, often making sure each employee has fair treatment in the workplace. [Merriam-Webster]
Unions run similar to a business, usually with someone in a leadership position and members paying dues to the union in order to be included in the group. [Economic Policy Institute]
Unions negotiate salaries, number of days off, unfair treatment cases, and more on behalf of the members. [The Century Foundation]
One strategy to get an employer's attention is for union members to go on strike.
- A strike is when an employee, often a group of employees, stop working in order to try to force an employer to comply with demands. [Merriam-Webster]
- Teachers across the country are using strikes to demand better working conditions. [USA Today] Teachers are still making an average of under $60,000 a year. [US News]
- March 2018: Teachers in West Virginia went on strike for over a week, demanding an increase in salary. [Vox]
- Jan. 2019: Teachers in Los Angeles, CA went on strike for a week, demanding an increase in support staff such as librarians, an increase in salary, and a reduction in class size. [The New York Times]
- Feb. 2019: Teachers in Denver, CO went on strike, demanding an increase in funding. [The Denver Post]
- Oct 2019: Teachers in Chicago, IL went on strike after the city failed to meet demands. [The Chicago Tribune]
WHY IT MATTERS
Your teachers could potentially go on strike, causing a change in your education. It is important to understand why employees use this strategy and what this means for a business or school. You may find yourself on strike one day as well, or on the other side of a strike as an employer negotiating with a union.
STRIKES ARE EFFECTIVE
It is difficult and expensive for the company to replace the workforce while on strike.
For example, it is costing the Oakland Unified School District $1 million a day as teachers and students strike. [The San Fransisco Chronicle]
Many companies will accept or negotiate with the worker's demands. [Industrial Workers of the World]
Voice to the people
For many employees, joining a union is the easiest way to have representation in a company. It can help guarantee work benefits (health care and retirement plans) and can be a defense against unfair worker treatment. [Economic Policy Institute]
Protected under law
Strikers are either considered lawful or unlawful depending on the nature of the strike. Lawful strikes have more employment protection than unlawful strikes. [National Labor Relations Board]
STRIKES DON'T HELP
A strike completely disrupts the daily routine of a business or school. Many people opposed to strikes find it irresponsible for people to stop work in a way that affects others, especially students. [The New York Times]
Unions seem good in theory, but can often be not as protective or helpful for employees as they seem. [Forbes]
Employees are not paid while on strike. Many employees cannot afford to be on strike because they are not paid. [The Atlantic]
Strikes can cause a rift between fellow employees. If one employee decides not to strike with his or her coworkers, those striking may feel betrayed. Some employees go on strike because of the pressure they feel.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
The average teacher salary is $59,660, or below a "living wage" in half the country. The lowest in the country is in Mississippi, where teachers make on average $42,925. [EdWeek]
2018: There were six major teacher strikes. The U.S. also saw a jump in the number of work stoppages. [The Wall Street Journal]
During the government shutdown, many federal employees that were forced to work such as TSA agents threatened a strike. Many fear potential effects on the country if federal safety workers go on a strike in the future. [The Atlantic]
Many companies do not give employees a choice in joining a union or not, as the company and the union has an agreement that employees must join the union. This raises the question of a worker’s right not to join a union. [Forbes]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
How would you feel if your teachers went on strike tomorrow?
All U.S. teacher strikes have one thing in common: fully funding education, from salaries to supplies. Read more here.
What are other ways you could get your employers attention without going on strike? Are there other ways?
There are some states, like Indiana and Kentucky, where it is illegal for public employees (teachers) to strike. [Chalkbeat]
Strikes occur outside of work as well. Prisoners often go on hunger strikes for better treatment, and activists go on hunger strikes to bring attention to an important cause. What is something you would go on strike or protest for?