All 55 counties in West Virginia closed their schools for 9 consecutive school days, from February 22nd to March 6th, for the school system’s 35,000 employees to demand higher wages and more comprehensive benefits. Meanwhile, 277,000 students were kept out of the classroom and their parents were forced to scramble for child care. For something that occurs so frequently as teachers’ strikes, they are seldom recognized for what they are or analyzed as anything more than a demand for a just wage.
Is refusing to work really the best way to receive adequate pay? Sure, a school without teachers displays how valuable the teachers are, but this is not an action that would be tolerated in most other fields. Refuse to clock in to your retail or office job to demand higher wages, and you might find yourself without that job. Teachers’ strikes are treated differently, because unionizing grants them the power to strike without being fired. After all, you need those teachers in school. This power turns the situation into, effectively, extortion.
Individual teachers certainly find themselves between a rock and a hard place with strikes. They don’t want to inconvenience their students and impede their education by going on strike, but they also want their deserved raises and are beholden to the unions they are forced to pay for. If teachers are paid so inadequately that they so often feel the need to organize in protest, then that really speaks to the failure of the public school system. So instead of petitioning for higher wages and more comprehensive benefits, why not petition for reform so that teachers would no longer be pushed to strike?
Cutting federal regulations and bureaucratic spending so that states and localities have more freedom with how they run their schools is a better long-term solution than these frequent strikes, but liberal teachers’ unions would be hard-pressed to advocate for any real changes such as these (not to mention advocating for school choice or voucher programs).
This latest strike ended Tuesday, March 6th, when West Virginia lawmakers agreed to raise teachers’ salaries by 5%. This will be achieved through a re-appropriation of funds, likely by a “$20 million reduction in spending out of cuts to general services and Medicaid,” as reported by CNN. Senate Majority leader Ryan Ferns (R) says that taxes will not be raised in an attempt to be more fiscally responsible, which is a hopeful step in the right direction.