Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Success Of West Virginia Teachers' Strike May Inspire Similar Action In Other States


Teachers in West Virginia headed back to work today after a nine-day strike. Their protest was over salaries that were among the lowest in the nation. And their protest worked. They secured a 5 percent raise. So might the success in West Virginia inspire teachers in other parts of the country to agitate for a pay raise?

JOSH EIDELSON: I just talked to a teacher in Kentucky who said that what's happened in West Virginia has lit a fire under teachers there in Kentucky.

KELLY: That's reporter Josh Eidelson. He wrote about this for Bloomberg News. He says it's not just Kentucky. There are rumblings that a teacher strike in Oklahoma might be coming soon.

EIDELSON: There, you have two tracks in a sense, where you have the leadership of the Oklahoma Education Association, whose president told me they are announcing a timetable of escalations. And if they don't get what they want, that timetable ends with shutting down all the schools this school year.

Meanwhile, you have teachers, dozens of whom met recently to make plans about how to build towards a strike in a dozen or more schools that they represent. Those teachers say even if they hear the timetable that the union has come up with, it might not be fast or aggressive enough for them, and they might try to pull off a wildcat strike first.

KELLY: A wildcat strike - explain what that is.

EIDELSON: A wildcat strike is when workers go out on strike without formal support from a union that they're part of or the legal authorization to do it. What we saw in West Virginia was something that began as a somewhat more traditional strike, and then it morphed into a wildcat strike, something that is extremely rare to see on this scale.

KELLY: Aside from whatever momentum may have been generated by what happened in West Virginia, is there any other factor that might push teachers to conclude this is a really good moment to strike, to push for more pay?

EIDELSON: The broader labor market plays a role. The fact that we're in a tighter labor market with lower unemployment has multiple effects for public employees. On the one hand, it means potentially better offers elsewhere, including in the private sector.

KELLY: Oh, that they could walk and expect to have a decent job waiting for them if they leave their teacher post.

EIDELSON: Yes. And it also means that there is a better revenue situation for the states. And so as one economist said to me, it's harder to argue that this is like getting blood from a stone when you know that the state is in a comparatively better revenue situation.

KELLY: You also use a phrase in your Bloomberg piece about the stirring of grassroots organizing. And I wondered if you were seeing something there about this political moment nationally, that Americans are riled up about all kinds of things and maybe ready to take a stand.

EIDELSON: We are in a moment where we've seen high-profile activism from fast food workers to the Women's March to athletes taking the knee. Of course the teachers who are involved here don't all come from the same political persuasion or background. But yes, for some people, what is going on now is part of a tapestry of activism.

It is also something that happens at a particular moment for the labor movement in the U.S. Organized labor faces not just decades-long decline but also a fresh crisis coming from the Supreme Court. And so at this moment, the strike in West Virginia and the potential for it to spread is seen by some people in the labor movement as a beacon, as a demonstration of the kind of defiant, disruptive activism that could help save the labor movement.

KELLY: Thanks, Josh.

EIDELSON: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Josh Eidelson - labor reporter for Bloomberg News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.