What Are The Risks For Arizona Teachers To Strike?

By Holliday Moore
Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - 10:55am
(Photo by Melina Zúniga - Cronkite News)
Arizona teachers march at the Capitol in Phoenix on March 21, 2018.

Being a right to work state, Arizona law typically favors the employer if a public employee tries to strike.

In 1971, then Arizona Attorney General Gary Nelson wrote that a strike is illegal and attached serious penalties.

It has been the chief discussion at grass roots meetings across the state as teachers vote this week on whether to walk.

The teachers’ union Arizona Education Association has fielded several phone calls on the state law.

“It doesn't say you pay a fine or you go to jail,” advises Joe Thomas with the teachers’ union. “But what everyone understands is the district could terminate you and the district could go after your certificate.”

MORE: Arizona Teachers Voting This Week On Whether To Call A Strike

Nevertheless, several public school boards have already voted to remove punitive language from their district policies in a show of solidarity for teachers.

#RedForEd liaisons like Derek Harris are warning teachers “there are no guarantees, that when a superintendent comes forward and says they support the movement that doesn't mean that you're free and clear to do whatever you like."

With those risks, the group of more than 45,000 members online, expects that some teachers with families to support will understandably stand down.

With a spouse and children, Katie Nash, a teacher at Chandler High School, said it's a difficult decision, "But if that's what you choose there will be leaders that will lead you though that as well."

To those who criticize teachers for snubbing the governor’s proposed 20-percent pay hike, #RedForEd liaison Jonathan Perrone reminds them, “When you look around Arizona, thousands of people are making that decision.”

He cautioned that education is not designed to be run as a business where one replaces another when the other fails.

“We cannot afford for schools to fail, because that’s an entire generation of children who are now too far behind to catch up.  We can’t have that,” he implored.

At this point, the momentum to strike, he said, focuses on the students’ well being.

MORE: Organizer Believes Teachers Will Vote to Authorize Strike

“We have classrooms where students sit on counter tops because there aren’t enough desks or seats in the room,” said Perrone, a STEM teacher at Mountain Sky Middle School.

It is the wealthiest middle school in the largest K-8 grade district in the state and, like other districts, classroom resources are stretched beyond function.

The school is managing better than most others by binding decade old books with duct tape, and asking students to leave the fragile textbooks in the classrooms to help preserve them.

“We find a way,” said Perrone, who opted a few years ago to rely on content from reputable internet sites instead of his state issued books. “We have science textbooks that still demonstrate Pluto is a planet and that was a scientific change almost a decade ago.”

When asked about the threat of being fired if teachers do vote to strike, both Harris and Perrone concede it is a risk.

"We've worked on the assumption that they can't fire all of us,'' said Harris. “If it was that easy to replace everybody, we wouldn't have 2,000 teacher jobs unfilled.”

By Friday, educators will decide whether to strike.  Before that happens, Perrone said their chief focus is making sure each student is safe, including having daily lunches and supervision.

Assured of that, Perrone predicted, the teachers will head to the capitol.

“This is not what we wanted to have,” he said, “Obviously, we all love our jobs.  Because it’s a difficult job and if you don’t love it, you don’t stay in it.”

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