“I LIKE CATS, unicorns and peace, but I love my teacher!” declares one sign, with two rainbows, held by a young pupil at Crocker Highlands Elementary School in Oakland on a weekday morning. She should have been at school, but instead she joined her mother and thousands of Oakland’s teachers outside City Hall. Oakland’s teachers are asking for higher salaries, support staff and more. Teachers in nearby Sacramento may be next to put down chalk and pick up placards.
Such strikes have become a national phenomenon. Teachers in Los Angeles, Denver and West Virginia have gone on strike this year, after action in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma in 2018. Last year around 375,000 teachers and staff went on strike. They accounted for about three-quarters of the total number of American workers who downed tools. As a result, 2018 saw the highest number of workers involved in strikes since 1986.
The complaints differ by school district, but one common refrain on picket lines is that teachers are not paid enough for their hard work. The wage gap between teachers and similarly educated workers has certainly widened since the mid-1990s. In many states teachers are paid less than other public-sector employees, such as prison guards and police officers.