Columbus teachers, why are you on strike? Tell us about the conditions at your school. Share photos of your picket line with us. Fill out the form at the end of this article or email directly to [email protected].
In the first strike in 47 years, nearly 4,700 teachers, librarians, nurses and other school workers took to the picket lines in Columbus, Ohio, early Monday morning. Educators are demanding pay raises, the hiring of more teachers and support staff, smaller class sizes, and upgraded HVAC systems to provide clean and safe conditions in buildings.
Teachers are also demanding that all buildings be brought up to standard. Many of the district’s dozens of buildings are infested with rodents and pests, have leaky roofs, peeling lead paint and other structural problems.
Teachers also want art, music, physical education and other programs to be extended to students across the district.
Several thousand teachers attended a mass meeting Sunday night at the Columbus Convention Center. The teachers expressed their determination to fight the council and their outrage at the council’s final offer.
Teachers came to the meeting with groups of colleagues carrying signs in preparation for the next morning’s picket.
They could be heard from outside the meeting erupting in cheers after calls for a strike or denunciations of the council’s rejection of their demands for better education for children.
Entering the meeting, the teachers spoke with the World Socialist Website about what motivates them.
Amber Nash, who has been a teacher for 19 years, indicated what was the most important issue for her. “Mould, lead paint. I think it’s a basic right that heating and air conditioning meet OSHA standards in every building in every neighborhood. The conditions of some of our buildings would not be accepted in the suburbs. So why are they accepted for some of our most struggling communities? »
Amber currently teaches at West Mound Elementary School which has undergone a complete rebuild over the past 8-10 years.
“West Mound is actually new construction. It has been completely rebuilt. New air conditioning, new HVAC. We do not have lead paint. So my building is one of the best buildings.
Others are not, she says. “I’ve been to the East Side; i was in a mod [module] who was not attached to the school.
Amber explained that mods are like trailers. “We had no plumbing or running water. I worked there eight years, and I never had less than 28 students each year in a Mod.
“Children in every building deserve an equitable learning space where they feel valued. They can look around and feel proud of their space. Feel comfortable learning and being engaged.
“I’m here to support all the kids in our town.”
An elementary art teacher, who asked that her name not be used, explained the importance of air conditioning.
“The air conditioning is something you should be able to get in easily. There is no (central) air conditioning. Some rooms have windows. It could easily reach 100 degrees. When you enter the room in the morning, it is already warm 10 degrees warmer inside than outside I don’t think that’s the most effective way to teach.
“Another concern is the distribution of tax breaks to promoters. It is funding for our students that is being taken away from us. If this is to happen, it should be transparent to the public. They should be able to see what’s going on. »
School nurse for 20 years, Barbara Lafferty found the effects of poor building condition on student health.
“Having our buildings in good working order would be helpful for our students. Every August we closed several schools because the air conditioning was not working. It’s not good for children with asthma and that sort of thing. So it causes health problems for our children when these things don’t work.
“And they were promised to make them work, they’ve been working on it for a while. I don’t understand why it can’t be accomplished.
“In February, the heat will stop working in some of our schools. This will cause problems for some of our children who have health problems. Not to mention teachers and everyone who works in construction. Would the people here in these skyscrapers take it? I doubt.”
Salaries and inflation also irritated teachers. The council’s final offer included only 3% per annum. Yet teachers have lost almost 16% of their salaries since the start of 2020 due to inflation, and there is no sign of it slowing down.
“We are asking for a reasonable salary increase to compensate for this,” explained the art teacher. “In addition, in recent years we have completely dispensed with a salary increase. Once, we simply ratified a contract we were already working on; we had no salary increase for this period.
“It is time we made up for this. The council can certainly afford it. They have taken action when it comes to administrators, so they have to take care of us. »
“My husband is also a teacher,” Amber explained. “We did a lot of things differently.”
Speaking on behalf of teachers as a whole, Amber continued: ‘We find that as a group we are being asked to do more and more with no financial return. I went to college for six years. I should be earning a good salary where I don’t have to work a second job or worry about bills.
All teachers spoke about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID is quite concerning,” the art teacher explained, “especially during the pandemic. Being an elementary school, germs spread quite easily and quickly. If COVID spreads in the community, it spreads 10 times more quickly in the school, then he returns to the community with the parents and the grandparents.
“Oh, my god, yes. Are you kidding me?” Barbe exclaimed. “It’s the United States. It has been two very difficult years. All that contact tracing. Yes, it was difficult. »
The contract expired at 12:01 a.m. Monday in the state’s largest school district serving 47,000 students. In the early morning, teachers “threw up street corners and sidewalks, lined freeway overpasses and marched outside school buildings across the city,” according to MSN reports. Picketing officially began at 7 a.m., “but many union members showed up earlier with folding chairs, snacks, thermoses of coffee, and coolers of drinks.” The outlet noted the determined enthusiasm of educators during their first strike since 1975.
The Columbus City Schools District (CCS) has defiantly prepared to hire 600 substitutes and provide remote instruction at the scheduled start of school on Wednesday. They will be paid an additional $100 per week for scabs during the strike.
Amber summarized why many teachers support a strike:
“I understand the importance of children being in class. This is not how I envisioned going back to school for myself, for my children, for my daughter. But it’s time to say enough is enough and that we are truly standing up for what our city’s children deserve.
As teachers have shown their will and determination to fight for a better education for Columbus students, the National Education Association (NEA) is working to isolate their strike and force them to reverse the board’s terms (see: “No to another school year of mass infection, death and austerity!”)
Currently, of the 3.3 million teachers in the NEA, Columbus teachers are the only ones in the nation who have gone on strike. The NEA did not even post a report on the strike on its website or Facebook page.
There are several other ongoing struggles by education workers.
In Philadelphia, 2,000 school support staff, including bus drivers, bus attendants, mechanics, building cleaners, engineers and laborers, voted overwhelmingly to strike.
In Washington DC, 550 American University administrative workers also began striking today for increases commensurate with the city’s high cost of living. They and other SEIU Local 500 workers are currently without a contract.
On Saturday, the Base Educator Safety Committee will hold a public meeting. The Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee is an international network of educators, students, parents and workers leading the fight to end the pandemic and defend public education.
Our next meeting on August 27 will propose an agenda for teachers to wage a unified fight against another school year of mass infection, death and austerity. Register and invite your colleagues, family and friends!