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Empowering Texas Teachers: A Dive into Unions and the Strike Ban

Jennifer Montiel

Director of Technology & Staff Reporter (2023-2024)


Restricted teaching to the STARR test, overcrowded classrooms, and low pay are all common issues that teachers face throughout the school year. Teachers have grown frustrated, tired, and overworked and often wonder what they can do to create change. After all, 35% of teachers are likely to quit within the next two years¹, and 55% are planning to leave the profession earlier than they had planned.² Many teachers in Washington, Ohio, and California have revived the 2018-2019 historic wave of education activism in 2023, demanding pay raises once again.³ Texas teachers may not be able to do the same.


Right-To-Work Laws and Unions


In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, allowing states to pass “right-to-work” laws. Under these laws, an employee has the right to work without legally being forced to belong to a union or pay union dues. A union is an organization built by employees who seek to protect and improve their rights, such as salaries, benefits, and working conditions. This is done through a type of negotiation called collective bargaining.


What Is Collective Bargaining?


Collective bargaining is when an employer and chosen union representative gather to determine wages, hours, and terms and conditions of an employment contract. If both parties cannot agree, the employer may impose the terms and conditions offered by the employer during the negotiation. If an agreement is reached, both parties must follow the contract and cannot deviate from it without the other’s approval.¹⁰ When a contract is set to expire, bargaining may start while terms of the expired contract remain in place until a new contract is made.¹¹


Let’s Talk About Texas, Y’all


We have given a brief overview of what right-to-work laws, unions, and collective bargaining mean, but let’s discuss how this affects Texas teachers. Texas, as a right-to-work state, allows unions and prohibits employers from forcing employees to join a union.¹² As previously mentioned, a union normally acts as a middle person between employees and an employer by negotiating through collective bargaining. Normally being the operative word here, because, in Texas, collective bargaining is illegal.¹³


In the same year Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, Texas passed its right-to-work law along with a separate piece of legislation.¹⁴ This legislation, now codified into the Texas Code, Title 6, Section 617.002(a) prohibits “an official of the state” from “enter[ing] into a collective bargaining contract with a labor organization regarding wages, hours, or conditions of employment of public employees.”¹⁵ Teachers are considered public employees, or officials of the state.¹⁶ The Texas Code further outlines in sections (b) and (c) that labor union representatives are not allowed to bargain on behalf of state officials, and any contract entered through collective bargaining is not valid.¹⁷


While teachers can join a union, they cannot benefit from union advocacy during contract negotiations, one of the main purposes of a union. Alternatively, since collective bargaining is not an option, can Texas teachers follow in the footsteps of other state teachers by striking for better pay, safer conditions, or to minimize outside-the-classroom work hours? In short, no. Texas Code, Title 6, Section 617.003(a) prohibits public employees, such as teachers, from “engag[ing] in an organized work stoppage,” commonly known as strikes.¹⁸


Consequences of Striking for Texas Teachers


What is the worst that could happen if a teacher decided to participate in a strike? Texas Code, Title 6, Section 617.003(b) says a “public employee who violates subsection (a) forfeits all civil service rights, reemployment rights, and any other rights, benefits, and privileges the employee enjoys as a result of public employment or former public employment.”¹⁹


This confirms the common floating rumor in school hallwaysteachers who strike may have their teaching licenses suspended or revoked, along with nonrenewal of their impending contracts or termination of the current contracts.²⁰ Additionally, teachers may face losing their pension as it may be considered a “benefit” under Section 617.003(b).²¹


Alternatives to Teacher Strikes in Texas


A teacher’s education to obtain a teaching certificate, pension savings contributions, and community participation require years of investment. This leads many to believe the risk of loss is too high to engage in a teacher’s strike. So, what can be done?


Private Sector: A public school teacher may consider joining the private sector. Section 617.003(a) of the Texas Code prohibits public employees from striking, however it is not applicable to private sector employees.²² For private school teachers, striking is a legally protected activity, with limitations and qualifications dependent on the strike’s purpose, conduct, and timing.²³


Voting: As many have urged before, voting is one of the most important ways to get involved. Despite the teacher shortage in Texas, the Texas Education Agency reports a total of 381,202 teachers for the 2022-2023 year.²⁴ With these numbers, not including administrative faculty, teachers have the power to create change by “voting for pro-education, pro-teacher candidates in school board races, Texas House and Senate races, and other statewide and congressional races.”²⁵


Teachers devote a vast amount of time, energy, and personal funds to improve their students’ education, out of dedication and care. However, passion alone cannot sustain the teaching profession. Without empowered unions to collectively negotiate better pay and working conditions, teacher retention will continue to fall. Teachers deserve both livable wages and a voice in creating the future of education. The time to support teachers, and by association their students, is now before Texas faces a mass teacher departure.²⁶

 

Sources:

[1] Madeline Will, Teachers Are Stressed and Disrespected, But Happier Than Last Year: 7 Takeaway From New Poll, Education Week (May 22, 2023), https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/teachers-are-stressed-and-disrespected-but-happier-than-last-year-7-takeaways-from-new-poll/2023/05.

[2] Press Release, Nat’l Educ. Assoc., NEA Surv.: Massive Staff Shortages in Sch. Leading to Educator Burnout; Alarming No. of Educators Indicating They Plan to Leave Pro. (Feb. 1, 2022) https://www.nea.org/about-nea/media-center/press-releases/nea-survey-massive-staff-shortages-schools-leading-educator-burnout-alarming-number-educators#:~:text=Conducted%20by%20GBAO%20Strategies%2C%20the,they%20love%20earlier%20than%20planned.

[3] Madeline Will, Los Angeles Educators Are Set to Strike. Will Teachers Elsewhere Follow Suit?, Education Week (Mar. 20, 2023), https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/los-angeles-educators-are-set-to-strike-will-teachers-elsewhere-follow-suit/2023/03.

[4] 1947 Taft-Hartley Substantive Provisions, National Labor Relations Board, https://www.nlrb.gov/about-nlrb/who-we-are/our-history/1947-taft-hartley-substantive-provisions (last visited Oct. 15, 2023).

[5]Right to Work Frequently-Asked Questions, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, https://www.nrtw.org/right-to-work-frequently-asked-questions/ (last visited Sept. 12, 2023).

[6] Labor union, Wex Legal Dictionary, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/labor_union (last visited Sept. 9, 2023).

[7] Id.

[8] Collective bargaining rights, National Labor Relations Board, https://www.nlrb.gov/about-nlrb/rights-we-protect/the-law/employees/collective-bargaining-rights (last visited Sept. 12, 2023).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Right-to-Work Laws in Texas, Ken Paxton Attorney General of Texas, https://www2.texasattorneygeneral.gov/agency/right-to-work-laws-in-texas (last visited Oct. 15, 2023).

[13] Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 617.002(a).

[14] What happens if Texas teachers strike?, Texas Classroom Teachers Association (May 8, 2018), https://www.tcta.org/legal-updates/what-happens-if-texas-teachers-strike.

[15] Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 617.002(a).

[17] Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 617.002(b)–(c).

[18] Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 617.003(a).

[19] Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 617.003(b).

[20] Texas Classroom Teachers Association, supra note 14.

[21] Id.

[22] Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 617.003(a).

[23] Right to strike and picket, National Labor Relations Board, https://www.nlrb.gov/about-nlrb/rights-we-protect/the-law/employees/right-to-strike-and-picket (last visited Sept. 12, 2023).

[24] Jeremy B. Landa, Ph. D., Employed Teacher Demographics 2015-16 through 2022-23, Texas Education Agency (Mar. 2023), https://tea.texas.gov/reports-and-data/educator-data/employed-teacher-demographics.pdf.

[25] Texas Classroom Teachers Association, supra note 14.

[26] The 2023 Texas Teacher Poll: Listening to the Educator Experience, Charles Butt Foundation (2023), https://charlesbuttfdn.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/2023-teacher-poll.pdf

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