The teacher strike in Oklahoma is ongoing. There is some chatter that this is a bad play for the teachers unions. I disagree. Yes, if history is any guide, it’s a safe bet at some point they’ll overplay their hand, but for now this works for them and is a smart strategy for four reasons.
First, they’ve got some legit grievances. Teachers are underpaid in some places (variance is the real story on teacher pay) and health care costs are effectively creating pay problems in others. Pension costs also create a crowd out effect on school finance but don’t look for them to take the lead on that. In general though these are not off the wall issues. Plus, because when these strikes end teachers usually get made whole for lost wages while they were on strike – yes that’s usually how it works even though you don’t hear about that in the media – it’s a low-risk strategy internally.
Second, they’re picking their spots well. They’re getting people in red states fired up about teachers and these issues and it’s also a smart play in advance of the 2018 midterm election where expanding the field will be key to Democratic success. And red state public finance is creating pressure they can seize on. Yes, with all these mass strikes it feels like we are living in France some days, but it’s a good moment for them.
Third, making themselves sympathetic and highlighting these issues in advance of what’s likely to be an adverse ruling for them in the Janus case later this spring at the Supreme Court is smart. These strikes are putting pay first and foremost in people’s minds, not collective bargaining by teachers, which is less sympathetic and splits even Democrats. I mean seriously, look at press like this.
Fourth, these big strikes work for them when done right. Karen Lewis showed that in Chicago and these recent ones follow suit. And the unions are stronger when they’re on offense about things like this than defense over personnel polices and issues like that. Plus, it obscures other issues that case friction within the union. For instance misalignment between national leadership and the rank and file over hot button issues like discipline takes a back seat to the immediacy of stuff like this.
While Washington investigates Facebook data and Russian bots, the best shield most Americans have to fight off propaganda is our capacity to make sense of what we read. A literate citizenry is a matter of national defense.
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Everyone can relate to this bear wanting to get a few more winks in.