As the start of the school year approaches—and the pandemic rages on—many teachers are reaching a breaking point. They’re scared to go back inside school buildings. They’re frustrated with state guidance, which they feel leaves more questions than answers. And they feel like their voices are not being heard in the push to reopen schools.Over the past couple years, teachers have organized strikes and walkouts in more than a half-dozen states and at least five big cities to fight for higher wages and more school funding. Even so, any labor action on a national scale would be “wholly unprecedented,” said Jon Shelton, an associate professor in the department of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, who studies teacher strikes.
In most of the country, teacher strikes are illegal. And even in the 15 states where strikes are legal or not covered by statute or case law, teachers still have to follow a process before they go to the picket lines. Strikes are typically the last resort in a contract negotiation process between the local teachers’ union and the district, after negotiations and mediation fail.
“There’s virtually no state where there’s just an unqualified right to strike,” Shelton said.