Teachers’ Strike: Union Organizes Protests for Increased Pay

Teachers+Strike%3A+Union+Organizes+Protests+for+Increased+Pay

Margaux Newby, Reporter

On January 22nd, 2019, tens of thousands of teachers flocked to the streets in Los Angeles to protest in favor of raising the salaries of teachers, having smaller class sizes, and hiring more support staff.

Teachers in Denver went on strike from Monday, February 11th to Wednesday, February 13th. In Colorado, 27 different school districts were forcibly closed due to these protests.

“Many, many teachers are in support of a strike, in fact, 93% of people who voted, voted yes for a strike,” said Valerie Lovato, a teacher in the Denver area.

The average teacher salary in Denver is $57,100 per year, which is not a livable wage for many teachers. Even though this is the average wage across the state, however, this is much more than the average starting wage for teachers, which is $38,000 in the US. The teachers protested for higher pay and got an 11.7% pay raise.

“When I bought my condo three years ago, the loan amount I received was not enough to purchase a condo in Denver. I had to move to the outer neighborhoods to find something that was in my price range. I struggle with not living in the city I work for, especially when it comes to voting. I want to be able to vote for changes that impact my students and I cannot,” said Lovato.

Colorado has the 34th lowest teacher pay of all 50 states in the U.S, with an average teacher salary of $52,480 per year, which is the lowest paid form of a bachelor’s degree.  The starting teacher salary at DHS is $40,000, which, For many people is not a liveable wage due to the median home cost in Durango being $422,800.

“In Durango, it’s very, very expensive, but personally it’s also a choice to live here. A lot of people have to make choices about what they’re willing to sacrifice.” said David Weisfeldt, a government teacher at DHS and a member of the Durango Education Association.

 The DEA is a group of teachers that come together to support the rights of educators.

“I like the idea of a professional organization that is working to improve the conditions of teaching,” said Weisfeldt.

It is because of the teachers union that thousands of teachers came together to protest in Denver and LA. Teacher strikes are more likely to bring out a change in larger urban areas.

“[In] rural communities, there’s less flexibility about where you can get new income sources or where you can shift money around. Bigger cities I think maybe have a little bit more options on how they finance education,” said Weisfeldt.

On Wednesday, January 23rd, teachers returned to their classrooms after the changes that were demanded were made. One of the things the LA teachers achieved from the strike were smaller class sizes. Many teachers have up to 50 students in a class, which will be significantly reduced during the next few school years.

“I think those big districts often drive change in the state, so I’m really excited to see those actions,” said Elizabeth Dillman, an E.L.L teacher at DHS and a member of DEA.

Teachers who participated in these protests were also able to gain more support staff. 300 nurses, 77 counselors, and 82 librarians will be added to LA schools.

“What I was excited about in LA, is they’re not just striking for higher pay, but they wanted more counselors for students, and librarians for students and things that we have, we have really good people in those roles, but we used to have more,” said Dillman.

One of the most pressing issues brought up in the strikes of teachers is to raise teacher salary. LA teachers demanded a 6.5% raise and were able to settle for a 6% raise.  

“There’s a ton of other layers of administrators, bureaucracy, and school boards that are in on making the decisions that teachers typically don’t have a lot of influence in,” said Weisfeldt.

These new additions added for teachers and schools will cost LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) $175 million in the next two school years. The money will come from a state tax referendum on the 2020 ballot which could bring $1.4 billion for LA schools. A parcel tax at the county level could also bring in money. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti stated that he is willing to redirect some city funds towards school needs.

Although many teachers protest for better pay, there are also many benefits that come with being a teacher.

“In our district, for 9R, we have insurance, and so health insurance is a major expense to most families. Even though the salary might be $52,000 on average, the actual benefits are greater than that.” said Robert Logan, the instructional coach at DHS, an AP U.S. History teacher at DHS, and a member of the Durango Education Foundation.

The DEF is a charity/non-profit organization that helps with funding schools with things that aren’t added in the regular budget.

“I like being part of a collective voice. In Durango and in the region I think our unions can work together for issues statewide, we can work together to try to deal with budgeting issues and things like that,” said Dillman.

“When you work with a company, 9R being the company, you want to have as strong a voice as possible as an employee. The Durango Education Foundation allows that voice to be heard much more readily than if it was just an individual,” said Logan.