Teachers’ unions on the rise nationwide; Florida teachers’ unions at risk

On March 6 a state-wide strike by West Virginia teachers had finally come to an end with the signing of a five percent pay raise bill. After refusing to work, and consequently closing schools for the strike’s two-week duration, teachers had finally gotten what they wanted. Teaching resumed the following day. Most recent, Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers participated in walkouts in April for higher wages and better school resources.

When teachers unite and demonstrate the value of their profession, students lose instruction time. Thousands of taxpayer dollars apportioned by the state for each child to attend school is also wasted. Though the events in West Virginia may have students wondering if such a strike could occur in Florida, the state forbids striking.

“The union [representatives are] allowed to file grievances for teachers, to deal with contract negotiations, to mobilize protesting and members are allowed to go to marches and be vocal about issues, as long as it is not striking. Teachers can be fired on the spot for striking. The union isn’t allowed to organize a strike; they’ll lose their union status.” Chemistry teacher and United Teachers of Dade union member Tomas Pendola said.

The state’s definition of striking constitutes “the concerted failure of employees to report for duty, the concerted absence of employees from their positions, the concerted stoppage of work by employees” and five other definitions laid out in Chapter 447 on Labor in the 2017 Florida Statutes. These limitations are placed on all public employees, which includes any employee whose employer is the government at any level.

Teacher unions were not always forbidden from striking in Florida.

“Because Florida is a “right to work” state, teachers are not allowed to strike, so that is a limitation that the union has” Pendola said.

Under Article 1, Section 6 (titled “Right to work”) of the Florida Constitution, “Public employees shall not have the right to strike.” This amendment was made in 1968.

Recent states, such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma, in which public employee striking has taken place, are all right to work states. Unions and teachers risk their jobs in hopes that a compromise will eventually be made with state legislatures, and that their grievances will be addressed.

It will be unlikely that Florida teachers take this risk. With the passing of HB 7055, a bill that, by July 18, de-certifies teachers’ unions that fall under 50 percent membership of total teachers it represents in its county, teachers like mathematics teacher Laura Rampey are fearful of the future of public education in Florida.

“It’s my belief that the goal is to get as many experienced teachers as possible, who happen to cost the most to pay, to either retire early or move on, drive the test scores down, and it becomes a justification for taking money out of the public school system and putting it into private schools. Eventually they, more or less, privatize the entire system. That is what I think is the intent: to make it as difficult as possible for teachers in public schools to keep doing their jobs so that the test scores tank,” Rampey said.