Op-Ed: So the Teachers Might Be Going on Strike. What Now?

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Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

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In 1970, the last time Pittsburgh Public went on strike, many of our teachers were still in school. Some of them were not even born yet. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like there haven’t been disputes since then – there certainly have – but at no point since has any disagreement ever escalated to the level that direct action was a necessary course. Most of us assumed that this time would be no different.

But on Monday of this week, the teachers’ union voted in an overwhelming majority to authorize a strike. And yesterday, they entered last-ditch negotiations with the board in a final attempt to hammer out a resolution to a contract issue that has hounded the district since June of last year (or since 2015, depending on how you’re counting).

As we discussed in a previous article, this does not necessarily mean that there will be a strike. Essentially, we can interpret the authorization in one of two ways: either it’s merely a move on the part of the PFT to put pressure on the board to settle, or they really mean business. At this juncture, it’s safe to say that, if no concord is reached during this round of bargaining, or at the very least no progress is made, we’ll be sleeping in as early as Tuesday; as long as we’re given 48 hours notice, anything is fair game.

But don’t start celebrating just yet. A walk-out would be, to put it mildly, disastrous for all parties involved. Students, a large portion of whom are too young to stay home alone, will leave parents/guardians no choice but to call off of work or arrange other accommodations, which is no small task for many families. Teachers are required to be on the picket line for eight hours a day. And the board is effectively rendered powerless for the duration of the demonstration. Oh, and don’t forget: any time away from school will have to be made up, either in the form of a curtailed spring break or an extension of the year deeper into June. Any way you slice it, we really don’t want a strike.

At this stage, there’s very little to be done. Our fate is in the hands of those currently hashing it out in a conference room somewhere, cups of coffee long gone stale. But no matter the end result, this entire ordeal reveals a deeper, more disturbing reality. Any time a group of workers – be it miners, steelers, teachers, or anyone else – is incapable of reaching a fair compromise within the confines of typical means, and is instead resigned to taking matters into its own hands, it is indicative of a far more pervasive issue.

We as students need to be doing more to make our voices heard. When we see our mentors suffering, it is our responsibility to step up, to contact higher-ups, to make it clear that the people we entrust ourselves to for 40 hours per week deserve to be getting paid, deserve honesty. We need to establish a transparent line of communication between schools and school boards, not just in the city but on a nationwide scale. We need to work together to create productive environments not only for students but for teachers, so that they can be confident in the knowledge that they’ll be able to pay the bills, and can instead focus on enabling today’s youth the way we know they’re capable of.

This Wednesday, 14 kids and three teachers died in Florida at the hands of a school shooter wielding an AR-15. We can’t afford to be bickering amongst ourselves.

For forthcoming information on the contract friction, stay tuned to the Eagle.

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Op-Ed: So the Teachers Might Be Going on Strike. What Now?