Opinion

Can Washington teachers spell I-L-L-E-G-A-L?

Teachers from Bellevue, Northshore, and Snoqualmie Valley school districts have threatened to go on strike if they do not have a tentative contract agreement by August 31.

Not surprisingly, their concerns are focused on compensation.

“We are quite far apart on some main issues, mostly compensation and issues around the curriculum,” said Michele Miller of the Bellevue Education Association.

Public employees are presumed to provide essential services necessary for the health and safety of the state’s citizens.

Under the state constitution, Article IX, Section 1, the state has expressly stated that it is the paramount duty of the state to provide a public education.

Those charged with that duty are violating the law when they refuse to perform their duties.

The Washington Education Association and its local affiliates consistently have used strikes, and the threat of strikes, to intimidate school boards during contract negotiations.

Typically, union negotiators keep this tactic as a “last resort,” to get their way, but have always denied that their actions are illegal.

Since 1972, of the 29 cases in which court injunctions were sought to end teacher strikes in Washington, 24 were granted.

The teachers’ unions have never appealed any of the injunctions, likely out of fear that appellate courts would uphold the decisions of the trial courts, setting a more expansive precedent.

While the Legislature explicitly has made strikes illegal for all other public employees, they have been silent on teacher strikes thus far.

However, the state courts have been quite clear.

In 2002, Superior Court Judge Joan Dubuque issued an injunction against the Issaquah Education Association.

The court cited two prior Supreme Court decisions that did not involve injunctions which punted the issue to the Legislature, but the Legislature has remained silent.

Judge Dubuque then relied on other Washington courts’ decisions related to injunctions to end teacher strikes and held that teachers do not have the right to strike, “and what is going on is an illegal strike at this time.”

This finding was justified because, in the absence of statutory authority granting or denying the right for teachers to strike, teachers will be treated as public employees.

The result of the 49-day standoff in Marysville in 2003 was particularly costly.

The delay itself interfered with the college application process and delayed high school graduation for many seniors.

Parents were forced to pay for additional daycare or leave their children at home unsupervised.

Superior Court Judge Linda Krese granted an injunction to end the Marysville teacher strike.

The court held that the Marysville Education Association violated the prohibition on public employee strikes and was acting illegally.

Most recently, on Jan. 31, 2006, Attorney General Rob McKenna issued an opinion clarifying the illegality of teacher strikes in Washington state: “In Washington, public sector workers at the state and local level do not have a legally protected right to strike. No right has been granted by statute or common (judge-made) law.”

That seems pretty clear.

Aside from the illegality of teacher strikes, the equally hideous reality is that teacher union officials use the threat of a strike to bully school districts into giving them exactly what they want, whether the district can afford the demands or not.

Why would they threaten to do something illegal? Because there have never been any real sanctions imposed on the teacher unions who brought about the strikes.

In both cases above, the fines would have begun to stack up after the order was issued if the order was ignored, but teachers returned to work before that happened.

Union negotiators should not be permitted to hold children hostage and force district concessions with threats of illegal activity.

That’s a fine lesson to teach students: If you don’t get your way, threaten to do something illegal.

Sonya Jones is Director of the

Labor Policy Center at the

Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

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