As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
-Mark 6:34 (NRSV)
First in West Virginia, then in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Colorado, teachers around the country are organizing for higher pay and dignified working conditions to support the education and formation of their students. As I write this, teachers on strike in Puerto Rico are being tear gassed in the streets. The Office of Public Witness would like to commend these brave teachers and offer support to educators around the country who are themselves considering organizing. The PC(USA) has a long history of supporting educators to negotiate for fair wages. When our teachers are expected to furnish their own classrooms with essentials, when they have not received raises in 10 years, and when they are forced to work part time jobs on top of their full time class load, we assert that our teaching jobs have failed to “sustain and nurture the dignity of individuals… and the social cohesiveness of communities”( 1995 Statement, Principles of Vocation and Work, PC(USA) pp. 426-427).
Further in, Loving Our Neighbors Equity and Quality in Public Education (K-12) from 2010, PC(USA) General Assembly:
- Affirms that justice requires all social institutions in our society, whether private or public, to honor the right of all persons, including public school educators, to organize to participate actively in decision-making that affects them.
- Supports the development and retention of qualified and skilled teachers through competitive salary levels, continuing education opportunities, cultural orientation, disciplinary back-up, encouragement for creativity, and participation in administrative decision-making (including through union representation) that may affect their interests.
- Calls upon Presbyterians…..To take an active role in supporting public education institutions and organizations partnering with these schools in order to make sure that all children have an equal educational opportunity.
Teacher salaries have been a primary demand in the wave of strikes, however they have advanced a number of other demands that together aim to save a public school system that has experienced chronic divestment over the past 30 years. In Arizona for example, which according to data from the National Education Association in 2016 reported some of the lowest per-student spending in the country, educators want a 20 percent pay raise and the restoration of funding cuts. In Kentucky, the primary demand is to push back on restructuring of pensions and benefits. Kentucky teachers are clear that reducing benefits is directly tied to school quality, as it will drive excellent teachers from the state; livable, dignified wages and stable benefits are required to attract qualified teachers. Teachers are striking not out of indifference to their students, but out of a deep love for their schools and communities. On May Day, we reaffirm that collective bargaining is a responsible and democratic way to resolve labor issues, express support for teachers and all workers who produce the fruit of this land and affirm that workers should share in the economic rewards of their labor.