Sunday, November 01, 2020

1889 Institute: Legislature should shield kids from Teachers' Union strikes

The Oklahoma Legislature Should Shield Kids from Teachers' Union Strikes
By Ben Lepak

Oklahoma’s largest teachers’ union has demanded the state adopt a policy that would see schools in 39 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties closed if only three people test positive in the entire county. Any excuse appears to be enough for unions to demand teachers be allowed to stay home from work, but still get paid. The lesson unions took from their successful 2018 walkout is that unbending obstinacy and elevation of adults’ economic interests over children’s well-being and educational advancement will not be punished, but rewarded.

The Legislature should make sure this lesson is unlearned.

It can do so by revising the state’s existing teacher strike law to squarely ban public employees from going on strike, punishable by an automatic loss of employment and benefits, like pensions.

Texas has such a law. There hasn’t been a single public employee strike in that state since the law’s passage in 1993. Incidentally, Democrats controlled Texas when that law was enacted. There was a time when even champions of organized labor like Franklin Roosevelt recognized government employee strikes for what they are, a subversion of government.

Government employee strikes have no place in American government. They are fundamentally unjust because they rob the people of their sovereignty. Government can only fulfill the public’s will through the actions of its employees. If a union can compel the government to change policy by removing its workforce through a strike, then the union is in control, not the sovereign people. This is unacceptable in a democratic republic.

Oklahoma’s existing teacher strike law does not carry a punishment sufficient to deter teachers from walking off the job. Do you recall any teachers showing any fear at all that they might lose their job when they walked out on kids in 2018? Or that they would pay any price whatsoever for their dereliction of duty? I sure don’t. I remember a festival-like atmosphere at the State Capitol. I suspect legislators also remember being shouted down and prevented from doing the business they were elected to do.

Few public figures in Oklahoma distinguished themselves when teachers left parents, employers, and most of all, kids, in the lurch in 2018. While local school officials conspired against the citizenry and legislators appeased unions, many parents quietly seethed. And students learned an unproductive lesson from prominent adults in their lives: the way to get what you want is by throwing a fit.

Legislators should correct that shameful lesson and avoid hostage negotiations with teachers going forward. Doing so will require them taking their duty to all citizens seriously and enacting an anti-strike law that does more than take up space on a page.

-Benjamin Lepak is Legal Fellow at 1889 Institute.


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