How to get your school strike-ready in three steps
Note: These are ideal steps to take. Not every chapter is in a position to complete all of these. Do what you can, knowing that it is moving your chapter in the right direction. If you are seeking support in how to get your chapter ready for a strike, MORE has district-level committees where members are supporting each other in this task. You can join one of those committees here.
You can also RSVP for MORE’s August 29th meeting that is all about Strike Preparation
- Pull together a committee of your coworkers. Organize a phone tree that reaches every member, organized by grade or department or the social networks that fit your school. Don’t forget paras, counselors, secretaries and other UFT titles. Ideally, outreach should include school aides and custodial and cafeteria staff – their solidarity will be very important. If your chapter leader is absent or unwilling to do this, you can start doing it yourself alongside co-workers who are in support.
- For those of you who are not chapter leaders and do not have contact information for all or even much of the staff at your school, you can start building contact lists through the networks and connections you already have (for example, co-workers you are social with, who are in your department, or with whom you serve on school committees). Then ask those co-workers to reach out to others who they know and build out from there. People are more likely to trust and work with known and respected co-workers. Even if you are only able to speak with a few people at first, ask them how they are feeling and see if you can judge what they are willing to do.
- Have members of your team hold one-on-one conversations with coworkers about the need for a sickout or strike, explaining why this may be necessary in order to guarantee our health and safety. Be sure to listen to their concerns, dispel myths, and be honest about the possible consequences. Rate members’ feelings about it from 1-5 (1 being your strongest activists and 5 being those opposed to your action) to get a sense of the level of support for a strike in your school.
- Plan initial actions in the next week that test the chapter’s ability to mobilize its members for a strike: a chapter meeting, a letter to parents, a community forum to build solidarity. Organize an in-person “practice” picket (socially distanced), car caravan, or online phone zap to elected officials before taking a job action. The number of members you can get to participate in one of these actions will give you a sense of the work you need to do to get your entire chapter ready for a strike.
What do we stand to gain by going on strike?
- The UFT is preparing for a strike because returning to school buildings in unsafe conditions is literally a life and death situation. We have already lost many DOE employees to COVID-19 and reopening the buildings will surely increase that number and risk spurring another wave of the pandemic in NYC. This is why the biggest nurses union in the city is opposed to the Mayor’s current reopening plan. We are striking to protect the health and safety of our members and their families, as well as our students and their families. Of course there are risks to striking, but there are also enormous risks to not striking.
Is striking illegal?
- According to New York State’s Taylor Law, most public sector workers in the state cannot go on strike. However, our union’s strength was built by illegal strikes. The UFT went on strike in 1960, 1962, 1967, 1968, and 1975. All of those strikes were illegal and many of them helped us win the strong contractual protections we have today.
What are the penalties for going on strike?
- UFT members who strike can lose two days of pay for every day they are on strike. So for example, if you went on strike for a whole week, you would not be paid for that week because you did not report to work, and you would be penalized an additional week’s pay on top of that.
- It’s highly unlikely that we would lose our health care coverage. It is part of our contract with the DOE that health coverage be provided. Even if we are violating the contract by striking, it doesn’t mean the DOE can simply end our coverage. When the transit workers struck in 2005, which violated the Taylor Law, they did not lose their health insurance.
- It is not true that our contract is “voided” or “cancelled” if we go on strike. Of course, if you are not working, the contract isn’t very meaningful (you cannot grieve your program or file an operational complaint if you don’t show up to work). While striking violates the contract itself (which has a “no strike” clause), it does not mean the contract is voided entirely.
- Our pensions are not affected by going on strike, and you can’t be fired or lose your tenure for going on strike.
What if members are afraid of retaliation by the principal?
- The CSA, the principal’s union, has been very vocally opposed to the Department of Education’s reopening plans. Principals know more than most how dangerous the DOE’s reopening plan is. It is less likely your principal would seek retaliation in this case than in other situations where the union may be trying to directly challenge their administrative authority.
What if I got an accommodation to work remotely?
- A strike is a demonstration of solidarity, and the power of unity. Not all teachers will be able to walk on a picket line outside their school for health and safety concerns, even if it is socially distanced. However, all teachers must find a way to participate if we are going to win safety for ALL our members and our students. This might include handing out informational flyers outside a nearby subway station, joining the picket of a DOE work site that’s closer to home, and making posts on social media (selfies with signs of support).
What if we vote “No?”
- This strike is a demonstration of force by the largest, most powerful union in the city. If the UFT leadership holds a strike authorization vote and it is voted down, it would be disastrous for the power we’ve built over the years. The governor is talking about major budget cuts to public education, and he would know that the UFT is not capable of mounting serious resistance to them. Our next contract negotiation would be an all out attack on our wages, benefits, and job protections.
My chapter leader won’t organize a strike committee. What do I do?
- This isn’t only about the safe reopening. We want this strike to transform our union into one the members are in charge of. If your chapter leader won’t step up and lead, there is nothing stopping you from doing it.
My District Representative is holding a meeting with my chapter. What should I ask?
- When asking questions, it’s best to first make a statement about what demands and actions you think the union should be making. Your question can then be to ask whether the UFT leadership supports those demands and actions, and if not, why. It’s important to make sure that the claims of the leadership are countered by the demands and expectations of the members. So, for example, instead of asking “Why isn’t the UFT leadership calling for a fully remote start to the school year,” start by saying, “The safest choice for employees and students is full remote and that’s what we should be fighting for” and then ask.
- In addition, Governor Cuomo has announced a tentative 20% budget cut that would result in 9,000 teachers being laid off. How does this budget cut affect our demands for the strike? How is the union using this strike as leverage in that fight?
If you have other questions, you can contact MORE-UFT at firstname.lastname@example.org