The recent teachers’ strike in Los Angeles drew attention to a shift in educators’ demands, as they are now bargaining as much as — if not more — for the “common good” than for typical labor unions’ requests of higher pay and more benefits, Education Week reports. And as educators in Denver, Chicago and Oakland, California, gear up for potential strikes in the near future, the article says, their demands signal this trend will likely continue.
Though teachers in Los Angeles didn't get as high a raise as they wanted, they did have other wins in bringing more resources to their schools: the Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to smaller class sizes, as well as more nurses, librarians and counselors. The district also said it would build more community schools, reduce assessments, eliminate some random student searches, and provide more supports for families facing immigration issues, Ed Week reported.
At a news conference, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the union’s activism was “much more than just a narrow labor agreement,” touching on topics including social, educational and racial justice. The article cites several factors — including the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision, which unions deemed “a rallying point” — that have spurred these groups to look for stronger causes, in addition to teacher pay alone, that draw support from the community.
Teachers’ efforts to "bargain for the common good" — an approach also known as social unionism — is not new, though it is gaining momentum. This approach was used in bargaining agreements in Chicago as early as 2012, in Los Angeles in 2016 and again this January. and And as charter schools in Chicago are pondering a strike to push for more classroom resources, smaller class sizes and more support staff — in addition to higher pay for teachers and teacher assistants — this shifted mindset could make yet another appearance.
While salary is an important issue in most teacher strikes, educators and their unions also see these methods of protest as ways to better meet student needs and expand social justice in schools. Teacher voice sometimes has little sway in the ordinary course of events, but their voices can be amplified if strike is threatened or implemented, as the whole school community stands to be affected.
If administrators involve teachers in school and district decisions earlier on, and offer opportunities for discussion and transparency, it’s possible this will help eliminate the need for crisis mode. The support of principals in matters that affect student needs also helps schools recover more quickly once the crisis ends.
The renewed focus on meeting students’ needs also parallels the growth of the community school model, which provides increased wraparound services for students and their families. The Los Angeles strike saw teachers push for more community schools, and the district has agreed to create 30 more. While the demand for higher teacher pay can sometimes create tension between district leaders and their staff if the groups don’t see eye to eye, the need to improve support for the school community as a whole as it strives for academic and personal well-being is an issue both sides can get behind.