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- Columbus City Teachers' Strike Diary: Voting and Picketing - August 23, 2022
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- Ohio House Bill 99 is Dangerous for Students and Teachers - June 3, 2022
- Wear Orange to Honor Uvalde and Too Many Others - June 2, 2022
- What I Learned From the Burial of the Unknown Cat - May 24, 2022
- A Teacher's Plan for Elon Musk's $44 Billion - April 27, 2022
- How to Help Unaccompanied Youth in Your School - April 25, 2022
- Why I Don't Show My 4th Grader His Grades - April 19, 2022
Day 0: On Strike's Eve in the Midwest
We're at our second mass meeting in as many months, and this is the larger of the two, with over 3,000 union educators in attendance. Just like last time, there are babies with their parents, a few children running around, and snacks in every seating section. We are a union of all ages and races, and I feel my age more every year as the newer teachers are as young as my nieces. Most of us are wearing the same t-shirt we wore to the last meeting, a union-issued comfy gray with the words "Solidarity" written in red letters in several different languages. Tonight I noticed a sound I didn't hear last time, the kah-chunking cacophony of hundreds of simultaneous staples securing our signs to their posts for us to carry in the morning.
Tonight I voted to strike, along with over 3,000 of my colleagues, which was 94% of everyone in attendance. Tomorrow I will picket with my 7-year-old to show my son what democracy looks like. I'm confident it will offer a superior education than him watching the administration's scheduled videos via his school-issued Chromebook. I will reassure parents that they will not face truancy if their children do not log on to the video learning that the administration says is required. As educators, we will continue to pool our resources, feed our picketers, and plan for our community. In my house, we will budget, speculate, and hope for a sound sleep that was elusive the night before.
Day 1: The Picket Line
I have extensive protest experience, but this was my first time walking in an actual picket line with a sign. Local businesses allow us to use bathrooms, as we are barred from our school buildings. Parents and students are bringing water and snacks, some staying to join the picket line. The honking cars and trucks show us love and help us keep moving. Injured staff members sit in chairs with propped-up legs holding their signs. Site captains are organizing, answering questions, and making sure we have no trash littering our site, our community.
After I take my son for a few picket laps, I settle him into a camp chair and claim my spot along the street to wave at supporters. I think my son is too immersed in his tablet games to care much about his surroundings, but when I look back, I see him wave every time a truck honks for us.
Day 2: CommUNITY
Our Solidarity Strike Fund is exceeding our wildest goals, with donations of over $35k from Washington state, Virginia, and Minnesota. Such support keeps our feet moving and our voices strong! Community members showed up to picket the emergency school board meeting last night alongside our union members who were on hour 12 of demonstrating. Businesses set up coffee funds that are overflowing.
The union clearly has the backing of the city but no updates on movement by the board. They are focused on rolling out a schedule of video links for students to start "alternatively."Columbus City Strike Diary: Voting and Picketing Click To Tweet
Context About Our Strike
Our Columbus City Schools district has not had a strike since 1975, and the sign-making let reality take hold. Like Chicago's union before us, what we do in our district could influence how districts across the nation conduct their next negotiation. Strikes in our area are known to last a week or less, and while I hope for a short strike, I think about how most issues we face as a country are in that "unprecedented" territory. I know that it could be a protracted strike. Our union negotiating team is sticking to the original agreement to negotiate non-monetary items first, such as class size, aides in kindergartens, and a more robust presence of art, PE, and music. Here are some of the top items the union would like to negotiate:
- A firm written commitment to keeping buildings within safe temperature limits, 68-76 degrees, as reported by NPR. We also want to get to a negotiating point about rain in the classrooms, cockroaches, uneven flooring, holes in the ceiling, and mold.
- Cap class sizes at 27 for elementary school classrooms and at 32 in middle and high school. Many kindergartens, for example, currently have 28 students with no aide (kindergarten aides are also on the bargaining table).
- Unified arts teachers in every building (PE, music, art)
- Planning time
- Pay raises above 3% (closer to the 8-9% that administration received)
It could take some time to sort this out.
Foremost on my mind is the loss of my family's health insurance. Although we pay our health insurance at the beginning of the month and the district could let us keep it through August, they have chosen to punish us by revoking it at 12:01 am Monday. The district will actually make extra work for themselves to refund a prorated rate when the strike ends. I called my son's speech therapy office to cancel his appointment–he is a student in this district. His annual check-up is scheduled for next week but may need to be moved because of the district's callousness. I am somewhat heartened that if anything catastrophic occurs before the strike ends, the extravagantly expensive Cobra will be an option. I will soon look into our options on healthcare.gov.
Our urban district of just under 50,000 students faces economic challenges, such as food insecurity, an affordable housing crisis, and a lack of accessible transportation. Daily reports of crime in the summer have us on edge as school-aged youth have stolen and wrecked cars, and younger kids have been hurt in shootings. The community worries about what young people could face while they are out of school during a strike.
I got involved in one such story on the eve of the strike. I returned a wheelchair from a homeless shelter after a young child with high medical needs was forced to leave the shelter with his grandma. On the eve of a strike, my heart is heavy for this grandma who cares for her grandson and is counting on the meals he will get at school. She counts on the stability of routine and a safe place for her grandson while they experience homelessness. Although the district is opening meal sites, many of our families, such as this grandma and her grandson, likely cannot get transportation in the times allotted.
I feel for families who want their children in the relative safety a school can provide to some environments the children experience when not in school, like in a homeless shelter. I vote to strike knowing that when this child and the other children return, it will be to safer conditions in the schools. I know that I voted for the promise of better conditions for teachers and students. I know that I voted for the promise of better conditions for teachers and students. We will go back to work when the board and administration are ready to do their part to help our students thrive.
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