Buoyed by a successful strike by their peers in West Virginia, their first statewide work stoppage since 1990, which ended with them winning a 5% pay rise and other concessions, teachers in Kentucky have went out on illegal wildcat strikes in more than 25 counties against the wishes of union leaders to protest against draconian changes to the state’s pensions plan.
The measures passed by the Kentucky legislature last week would raise the eligibility age before teachers can qualify for their pensions, bar future teachers from enjoying traditional pensions in favor of cash balance plans, and even allow lawmakers to unilaterally reduce teachers’ pension plans in violation of previously negotiated collective bargaining agreements. In Kentucky, teachers in Lexington and Louisville decided to go on a wildcat “sick out” on Friday to protest against the state’s legislature draconian pension cuts.
“Jefferson County Teachers Association and Kentucky Education Association did not call this sick out,” said striking Louisville teacher Kelsey Hayes Cotts. “This call comes from the rank and file. This is a true grassroots movement.”
While in Oklahoma where teachers’ salaries remain stubbornly low, at 49th in the nation and its teachers make $45,276, nearly $13,077 below the nationwide average of $58,353 and well below the nationwide high of New York at $79,152, the teachers are planning to go out on strike despite the state legislature passing a raise equal to an average $6,000, a raise which teachers called inadequate and would still leave them in the bottom half of the pay scale for states across the country.
“Over a decade of neglect by the legislature has given our students broken chairs in classrooms, outdated textbooks that are duct-taped together, four-day school weeks, classes that have exploded in size and teachers who have been forced to donate plasma, work multiple jobs and go to food pantries to provide for their families,” said the Oklahoma Education Association in a statement. “We are saying enough. No more empty promises.”
In places Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states, teachers are all also considering action.
The strikes are unique in that they are not being called for by the leadership of the unions, but often through direct appeals of rank-and-file members using social media and their own personal networks to organize across entire states and now the country. Teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky say that they were inspired by the efforts of teachers in West Virginia, who continued illegal wildcat strikes despite calls from union leaders to return to work. Despite being an illegal wildcat strike, the West Virginia teachers’ strike was ultimately successful because of the mass public support it enjoyed.
“A lot of teachers were inspired by what happened in West Virginia,” says Kelsey Hayes Cotts. “I think West Virginia sent a signal to people that this can happen. It works and it sent a signal to the nation.”