The right to strike has been a tool in a worker’s toolbox probably since the beginning of time. Historical records from the 20th Dynasty of Egypt, during the 12th century BC, show that workers refused to work by walking off their jobs because they had not been paid.
Marxism, on the social level, came to the United States in the late 19th century, wherein workers banded together to unionize with the intent of gaining better pay and conditions from their employers. This led to the growth of unions, which started as grassroots organizations of workers. Eventually, unionizing became what people talked about and dictated how and with whom people would socialize.
Unionizing became a national phenomenon, giving tremendous strength to unions and workers. To create what lawmakers saw as an imbalance, legislators created a series of rules, both on the local and national levels, that would strike a “balance” between employees, their unions, and employers.
The state of Washington adopted some rules that are similar to other states’ with respect to public employees, specifically public school teachers. Under the laws of the Evergreen state, public workers, i.e. public school teachers, are not legally protected when creating a work stoppage, regardless of the reason.
Numerous states legislated against teacher strikes and made such strikes illegal. That is to say, public school teachers who strike in certain states violate the law and are subject to arrest. Other states provide the same employee protection to public school teachers who strike as every other employee who strikes against an employer.
Washington state is unique in this regard. Public school teachers do not violate the law if they strike; however, walking off the job makes them subject to dismissal, regardless of the reason. In other words, public school teachers have neither the protection of other striking employees nor the adverse criminal action if they do strike.
Seattle Strike 2015
This concept was tested in 2015 when public school teachers in Seattle walked out of their jobs, demanding better pay and benefits. The strike was a calculated risk: The teachers went on strike without any legal protection of their jobs.
The teachers claimed that a salary of approximately $35,000 was too low based on certain costs of living, thereby disincentivizing college graduates and future college graduates from joining the ranks of teachers. The state countered with an incremental rate raise of approximately $11,000 to approximately $46,000. The teachers wanted an additional mechanism that triggers a pay raise commensurate with the cost of living.
The strike went beyond pay. It all sought to address classroom size, which the teachers felt was much too large. In addition, it sought to address racial and socio-economic issues, including a study to help those on the lower end of the economic spectrum close the study gap.
The strike was effective. As mentioned, in other states the strike would have been illegal and the striking teachers would have been punished. In Washington, the teachers achieved a victory.
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