Arizona teachers force concessions; will vote on statewide strike

On April 12, with the threat of a statewide strike on the horizon, Arizona Republican governor Doug Ducey promised a 10 percent wage hike starting with the new school year.He has also authorized pay increases of 5 percent in 2019 and 2020. Since the Great Recession, the state’s teachers have consistently ranked in the bottom five states for take-home pay and top five in the country for class sizes. Meanwhile, teachers will be voting on whether or not to strike April 17-19.

Ducey’s offer to raise teachers’ pay is the result of a grassroots campaign that started with teachers talking to one another in classrooms and cafes and ended with a massive local campaign with broad popular appeal.

The origins of the threatened strike are complex and specific to the state, but there are parallels to other teacher’s strike movements happening in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Arizona, like many states, slashed public spending during the Great Recession and have failed to reinvest that money in public life, instead approving legislation that slashed corporate taxes throughout the state, which only benefitted millionaires.

By 2015, the state was struggling to retain trained teachers as longtime educators left the profession for jobs that would allow them to make ends meet. Fed up with the state’s stinginess and inspired by walk outs in other states, many of Arizona’s teachers took it upon themselves to force a change.

Kassandra Dominguez, a first grade teacher in Glendale, told the Arizona Republic that she and her colleagues met in school copy rooms and organized on Facebook to plan a ‘sick-out’ that closed nine Phoenix schools on March 21, spreading a message classroom by classroom: “If it doesn’t start with us, if we don’t do this ripple effect, it’s not gonna happen.”

There was little initial backlash to the sick-out and to protests across the state, and the movement continued to grow such that by the end of March, thousands of schools were holding “walk-in” protests and wearing red to show support for the movement dubbed #RedForEd by the coalition formed under the name Arizona Educators United.

Ducey, who has baited teachers and repeatedly insisted they will not get more than a 1 percent cost of living increase, proposed a serious pay hike only after the movement grew large enough to challenge the power structure with the very real threat of a general teacher’s strike. Arizonans have consistently reported that they support the teachers and believe that education- and the right to people entrusted with providing education to a living wage- is a fundamental value that they believe in.

The teacher pay boost, if it goes through as Ducey has promised, will take teacher’s wages from an average of $48,372 in 2017 to $58,130 by 2020. The proposal is still imperfect, as it fails to invest more money into the schools themselves and to teacher’s supplies that, all too often, end up being paid for by the educators themselves. Teachers are further demanding that any pay increases given to teachers be made applicable to all school support professionals and staff.

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