With the teacher walkout on for Monday, questions remain about the future: How long can teachers maintain their resolve if walkout days stretch into weeks?
The president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers thinks the longer the walkout lasts, the harder it will be for teachers to maintain their resolve in large enough numbers to win the showdown between an education coalition and the Oklahoma Legislature.
A coalition led by the Oklahoma Education Association and joined by the Oklahoma City Federation of Teachers and the Oklahoma Public Employees Association demanded over $900 million in new funding including a $10,000 pay raise for teachers over three years.
If the demands were not met, the threat was to walk out of school on April 2 and come to the Capitol and stay out of school until the demand was met.
Instead, the Legislature passed a series of bills Monday for about half of the demands with not enough funding sources in place to back up the new statutory budget increases.
Other government services could be cut to accommodate the education increases, something teachers do not want.
We reported parents’ concerns about the inadequate funding.
And so, the walkout is on for Monday, April 2.
Information can be found on the coalition’s website: http://standwithteachers.org/
By Sunday, 20 of the largest districts in the state had canceled school for the walkout at least for Monday with over half of the state’s public school students out of school.
Ed Allen, the president of the only teachers union local in Oklahoma to actually go on strike against its board of education, talked to Free Press Thursday about the days that follow the initial rally.
Of all of the union locals in the state, the AFT-OKC has the deepest institutional memory of just how hard a protracted job action can be.
Their strike against OKCPS stalled the beginning of the school year in 1979, lasted a total of 17 calendar days, and involved 1,400 strikers at its peak.
He pointed to what he thinks is the biggest question about the days beyond Monday.
For every day teachers are out, will it be harder for them to stay unified?
Allen was clear that once a work action like a strike or walkout starts, there are many human unknowns that affect the way things go in following days.
Allen has been in the Oklahoma City School District for 26 years and has been the President of AFT Local 2309 for a number of years.
The union leader talked about how important it is to remain unified.
But, he also knows human nature.
Allen cautioned that if the walkout goes more than a few days and school boards become impatient, it may be hard to maintain solidarity among enough teachers to keep the pressure on the Legislature.
“The bold talk, the passion that people have, will reach right up and touch reality,” said Allen.
“If you are going to try to stay out when that first paycheck comes in and they have no paycheck, the numbers will start drifting off and at some point, their employer is going to say. You’ve got to come back to work or face termination.”
And unlike some unions, neither the OEA or the AFT have strike funds built up to pay strikers a daily allowance to help ends meet during a job action.
“We won’t fold. We are committed,” said Allen about the AFT-OKC.
The local has been an active member of the coalition planning the walkout.
And, their national union is taking this action so seriously that national AFT President Randi Weingarten is scheduled to be present for the action.
Indeed, some of the AFT members had already started making signs for the rally before Governor Mary Fallin signed the bills to raise teacher pay and some funding for schools.
Oklahoma City Public Schools has made a strong commitment to supporting teachers in their efforts to improved funding.
Allen said the Legislature gained some leverage Monday once they passed half or less of the demands of the OEA, AFT and the public employees union.
“Hey, let’s be honest about this. To get this kind of a raise after ten years of nothing is a win,” said Allen. “It just is. It’s a win.”
He said that the sudden move by the Legislature to avert a walkout didn’t work, but it might have taken something out of the passion some people were feeling at first.
“And, we will continue to fight like we always do in the movement,” he said. “We are ready to keep up the fight no matter what form it’s in even beyond the walkout.”