LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (News Release)- Educators in Little Rock School District are facing a call by the teachers union to participate in a strike on November 14, 2019. What should an education professional do? What are the options? This is not simply a moral and ethical dilemma, but also a legal one. For example, there are real and potentially severe penalties ranging from fines to job action to an ethics violation allegation being filed.
While the Arkansas State Teachers Association (ASTA) believes educator voices should be heard, it cannot support actions such as strikes and work stoppages. Not only do many educators believe disruptions to the learning environment unfairly leverage students, threaten professional relationships, or, perhaps, are simply not an effective tactic., strikes disproportionately impact our most vulnerable students, families, and employees. In Arkansas, especially, courts have indicated work stoppages are against the law, exposing participants to penalties, in addition to the harm caused to children and families and to relationships within the schools and the community. ASTA supports ardent, relentless, and professional educator advocacy—not acts that break trust, agreements, and potentially the law.
Educators deserve to know the facts and consequences of participating in a strike.
To this end, a number of attorneys have assisted ASTA to provide the facts regarding the legality and potential consequences of participating in a strike. Both union and nonunion educators will find the following information helpful.
· Are strikes legal?
Although there is no statute that prohibits teacher strikes in Arkansas, the Arkansas Supreme Court has repeatedly indicated that the Court considers teacher strikes, and public sector strikes in general, to be illegal. Potts v. Hay, 229 Ark. 830,318 S.W.2d 826 (1958). Furthermore, the LREA/AEA/NEA Professional Negotiated Agreement all parties agreed to indicates any work stoppage is grounds for termination, as is violation of LRSD sick and personal leave policies.
· What is ASTA’s position on teacher strikes?
ASTA is a non-union educators association and a state chapter of the non-union Association of American Educators (AAE). As articulated in our Code of Ethics for Educators, we cannot support strikes and work stoppages. Strikes are disruptive to the learning environment and interfere with crucial learning time, services, and other care students rely on schools and educators to provide. Furthermore, strikes tend to disproportionately affect struggling students, families, and employees which can erode much of the goodwill between parents, communities, and educators. ASTA does not forbid members from participating in strikes and work stoppages, but stresses the seriousness of potential consequences to illegal or unethical actions and further eroding trust and respect for educators. ASTA seeks an environment in which educators are well respected and personally fulfilled.
· Will employees be paid during a strike?
Employees who report to work will be paid. Those who choose to participate in a strike or work stoppage will not be paid. If the school district shuts down, employees will not be paid during that time, regardless of their support for a strike. Employees cannot use sick leave to participate in a strike since A.C.A.§6-17-1204 (d) states, “A teacher shall be entitled to sick leave only for reasons of personal illness or illness in his or her immediate family.”
· What if I am asked by the union to transport students, report to a church or community center to monitor students, or allow volunteers who have not been vetted by the district or state to substitute in my classroom during a work stoppage?
Under any of these circumstances, an employee would be considered participating in the strike or work stoppage. In addition, in these situations LRSD employees are liable for student safety and this could place students and you in a potentially harmful environment. Any liability insurance policy is unlikely to cover incidents that occur when a policyholder voluntarily takes on risk they were not directed to by their employer, leaving the employee personally liable.
· I fear being bullied and further damaging the culture of my school if I do not participate in a strike. What is the best way to proceed?
You deserve to work in an environment of mutual respect. No one should face recrimination or harassment for exercising their conscience and professionalism. A difference of opinion over whether to participate in a strike should not end professional collegiality. Deciding to work rather than participate in a strike or work stoppage that you may believe to be illegal, unethical, or ineffective does not mean you cannot agree with the goals of those educators who do strike or wish to support your colleagues outside of your responsibilities at the school. Should you work instead of participating in the strike, keep in touch with other employees who are working during the action, give each other support and share information. Opposing a strike does not mean you automatically oppose a colleague who chose to strike and vice versa. Be confident in your decision to serve students and honor your contract, local policies, and laws. Document any unprofessional behavior, as well as the time, date and witnesses. Please call the ASTA office for assistance and to report any unethical behavior.
· I do not want to leave my students to strike. What choices do I have?
All employees have a choice whether or not to participate in a strike or work stoppage. ASTA does not forbid or obligate members to participate in a strike or work stoppage. Steps you can take following your choice during the strike depend on your membership in the union.
I am not a union member: While you still have a choice, we strongly recommend you work in your classroom or attend a professional development opportunity if you are scheduled to do so. Ask the appropriate administrator what opportunities will be available for those who choose not to participate in union strike activities. If you’re not an ASTA member, consider joining ASTA to ensure you have the legal and professional resources to support, inform, and guide you through this matter and future ones as well. Dues are only $8.25/pay period and you can join at astapro.org/join.
I am a union member: As a union member, you are bound by the union’s constitution and bylaws. Some union policies penalize a union member who does not participate in a union-sanctioned strike. If you are a union member and do not wish to participate, you may wish to consider dropping your union membership, at least temporarily, so that you cannot be punished by the union for your decision. Make sure the union has a resignation letter from you before you cross any picket line. If you choose to end membership, contact your payroll department and ask for deductions to cease. Arkansas public school employees may join or terminate membership in a labor organization at any time according to A.C.A.§6-17-120(b)(1).
· How can I assist to ensure schools remain open during a work stoppage?
Let your administrator know you will be at work and are flexible to help fill any gaps during this time. You should be paid per district policy. Spread the word of how others can serve in classrooms! Substitute teachers hired through WillSub, certified educators, and volunteers approved through LRSD and The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will be able to serve in classrooms during a work stoppage.