Feisty, Fighting Unions Take on Battles Around the Country

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No one ever accused teachers unions of being unable to play political hardball. Around the country, unions are pretty bold in seeking their demands.

Three weeks ago in the TQB of September 26, 2003, we reported that the Chicago Teachers Union had won what we thought was a pretty major victory: a 4% salary increase for the each of the next 5 years and a shortened school year. Teachers would see a salary increase of up to $13,300 over the next five years. We spoke too soon. The union rank and file voted down the increase. They also appear to be fighting mad with their president, Deborah Lynch, for having brought back such a meager increase and are seriously considering a strike. "It's 1987 again," said one teacher, "We're not happy, no one is. We can shut them down again."

If they're looking for guidance on how to stage a real strike, they should look no further than to Marysville, Washington. Children in Marysville have not yet started school due to a record 43-day strike. Although Marysville children may be rejoicing (but not learning), no one else is. A parents' group called "Tired of the Strike" has filed a lawsuit and has even gotten Washington governor Gary Locke to intervene in the bargaining process.

In Minnesota, the state teachers union is going to court to stop state funding of an online program. Education Minnesota has filed a case in county court arguing that the Minnesota Virtual Academy an online education program popular with many home-schooling families is ineligible for $2.25 million in state funding for students who aren't in public schools. The union and its two school district co-plaintiffs argue that Minnesota law requires that work be done by certified teachers rather than parents and that this is in effect funding home-schooling. Minnesota Virtual Academy argues, in turn, that 10 certified academy teachers are actually doing the teaching, albeit from a distance. MVA has 280 students enrolled in grades K 7 and had to issue more than 600 rejections due to lack of appropriated funds.