A Free AND Ordered Space: Egyptian Artisans, Strike Class 1 Employees, the Montreal Police Department and Alaskan Educators: Could We See A Teachers’ Strike in Alaska?

Part 8 of the series

By Clint Campion of Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi, LLC

The first documented example of worker “strikes” occurred in ancient Egypt (1159 B.C.). Artisans working on the royal tombs at Thebes walked off the job because of delays in receiving their daily rations. In response to the strike, Pharaoh Ramses III raised the artisans’ wages. This is an early example of the tension between the interests of employees and labor to increased wages versus the desire of employers to minimize costs related to achieving goals.

More recently, more than 4,000 teachers from the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers went on strike for the first time in more than 50 years. The teachers went on strike for higher wages and smaller class sizes. The district resisted the teachers’ demands, citing declining enrollment and shrinking budgets. The teachers reached a tentative agreement on March 25 with Minneapolis Public Schools to end a strike that caused more than 30,000 students to miss 14 school days. The tentative agreement includes protection for teachers of color, increased pay and benefits, class size caps, and enhanced mental health supports.

In Alaska, school districts face budgetary challenges caused by increasing costs, flat state funding, and declining enrollment while teachers’ unions push for higher wages based on inflation pressures and changes to other workplace conditions. While districts and unions are generally able to work out their differences through negotiations and interest arbitration, if a compromise is not reached, could we see Alaskan educators walking off of the job?

The Alaska Public Employment Relations Act School prohibits some public  employees, known as Strike Class 1 employees, from striking. AS 23.40.200(b). Strike Class 1 employees, which include police officers, firefighters, are not free to strike to strike for better wages and working conditions because of the critical role they play in maintaining an orderly society. Some readers of this commentary may recall the infamous “Night of Terror” in Montreal, Canada in October 1969, when over 3,700 members of the Montreal Police Department walked off the job. Within hours, chaos ensued. The CBC reported that gunfire erupted between armed protesters and armed security guards, with buses being set on fire, requiring Canadian Army to deploy to restore order.

Unlike police officers and firefighter, Alaska’s educators are permitted to strike, but only if there is an impasse or deadlock in collective bargaining negotiation with a school district and only after the district and the employees submit to advisory arbitration. AS 23.40.200(g)(1). If the advisory arbitration fails, a strike may not begin for at least 72 hours after notice of the strike. AS 23.40.200(g)(2).

When educators strike for better pay and working conditions, they are not always successful. Teacher strikes are more likely to succeed if the teachers have the support of the communities they serve. While the public generally favors better pay and working conditions for teachers, it does not support disruption to student education.

As school boards face increasing budgetary pressure and educators demand better pay, smaller class sizes, and better working conditions, we may see an increased likelihood of a strike. Such a strike would highlight the tension between educators’ freedom to push for higher pay, smaller class sizes and better working conditions and the interests of an ordered society, i.e., students attending classes with their educators providing instruction.

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he views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.