This article was originally published on Waging Nonviolence.
Teachers and other workers have raised concerns about staffing shortages, low salaries, safety concerns, unfair contracts, and widespread student return to classrooms across the country for the 2022-2023 academic school year.
Monday saw over 500 staff at American University in Washington, D.C. kick off a new year. five-day strikeAfter weeks of failed negotiations between the university’s SEIU Local 500, which represents workers, and the university, they are now demanding higher wages and more equitable pay structures.
Many striking workers are advisers to first-year students, including Roshan Abrams. He says the employees unionized for the first time in 2020. However, they claim that they have not been able to negotiate with the university in good faith and have failed to reach a fair contract.
“The first semester is largely about personal development, and what it means to be in a community, and the second semester is about anti-racism and anti-oppression,” Abraham said. “What I teach my students is what I’m living right now — part of the reason I’m on strike is because I actually believe the stuff I teach my students.”
The university staff, including administrators, voted 91% in favor of the strike. They are demanding a wage hike of 9 percent over two-years to keep up with inflation. They’ve also filed unfair labor practice charges against the university for explicitly excluding employees in the union’s bargaining units from merit-based raises.
According to Abraham, the higher wages will ultimately benefit students, who often cycle through multiple advisors in their first year due to the department’s high turnover rate. Even as they’ve faced resistance from the university administration, Abraham says the striking workers have experienced an outpouring of support from students and non-unionized colleagues.
“Our president is amongst the most well-paid presidents in the country — they could settle this contract for less than that,” said Abraham, referring to university president Sylvia Burwell, who earns over $1 millionper year. “Instead, they’ve dug their heels, and have ignored us and stonewalled us. Their plan was clearly to wait us out.”
Other labor actions among educators have been linked to widespread staffing shortagesThis is often due to low pay and burnout that was exacerbated by pandemic. On the K-12 level, teachers have also expressed exasperation with the so-called culture wars’ increasingly restrictive attackson anti-racist education in schools and LGBTQ rights.
Wednesday’s first day of classes was delayed due to a technical problem. Seattle’s largest school districts after members of the Kent Education Association voted to strike over the district’s failure to negotiate a contract with adequate pay and more manageable class sizes. Philadelphia is home to approximately 4,000 school district workersThe 32BJ SIEU, which represents bus drivers and cleaners voted to authorize a walkout if the district cannot negotiate a new contract that offers higher salaries and better training.
And, in Ohio’s largest school system, staff reached a “conceptual agreement” with the Columbus Board of Education after roughly 4,500 teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors and other employees went on strike for the first timeSince 1975, the first school day.
Four days of strikes by parents, students, and strikers erupted at 20 locations in the 47,000-student network. After five months’ worth of failed negotiations, and after a Columbus Education Association election in which 94 percent of members rejected the district’s most recent offer.
The teachers were calling for officials to address issues with the heating and air conditioning systems in the district’s buildings, as well as more planning time for teachers, curriculum changes and solutions to large class sizes. They carried signs that said “Columbus schools deserve working air,” “a history lesson in progress,” and “on strike for the schools our students deserve.”
“In multiple efforts to negotiate through the media after walking away from the bargaining table, the school board has tried desperately to make this strike about teacher salary, teacher professional development and teacher leaves,” CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes said in a statement.
“Let me be clear. This strike is about our students who deserve a commitment to modern schools with heating and air conditioning, smaller class sizes, and a well-rounded curriculum that includes art, music and P.E.”