Memo to State Senate: Approve 5%, declare victory and move on

Conflicts are often exacerbated by miscalculations. When the strike by teachers and service workers began Thursday, February 22, nobody thought it would last very long.  But we are now in day nine, and the crowds yesterday at the State Capitol were even larger than previous days.

We’ve said all along that the anger and frustration by teachers and service workers is real and that the uprising has been more grassroots than top down.  Remember, strikers ignored the union leaders call for people to go back to work last week after a new pay raise deal was cut with the Governor.

However, the union leaders realized pretty quickly that the Senate was balking, and as long as the new plan for a five percent raise for teachers and service workers was in doubt, the strikers were not going to go back to work.

Meanwhile, the determination of the strikers has actually increased.  The teachers and service workers are building on the energy of each other. They have bonded in a spirit of unity that has created a powerful force. Their commitment seems to grow with each protest.

Teachers and service workers say the public is on their side.  We have no polls to know one way or another, but we have not witnessed a groundswell from the public demanding teachers return to work.  I suspect many parents are growing weary of the strike, but they are reluctant to challenge the teachers publicly.

Yes, the Republican Senators who are holding back on the Governor’s deal believe Justice hung them out to dry. Justice convinced the Senate leaders to back his plan for a one percent raise each of the next five years, but then flipped to the five percent plan after getting an earful at town hall meetings.

But it’s unclear what the Senate can gain now by holding out.  The Governor and the House are on record supporting the five percent plan, and that makes the Senate Republicans outliers. It’s hard to imagine the House and Justice adopting the Senate plan of a four percent across-the-board raise for teachers, service workers and state employees.

The Senate is right that the 4 percent plan provides equity for all state workers, but how do you walk back the five percent for teachers and service workers?

The old saw in politics when you are on the losing side is to “declare victory and move on.” That’s the Senate’s best option right now.  It can approve the five percent plan based on the Governor’s figures.  If the money is not there next fiscal year, it’s the Governor who will have to make cuts and answer for the spurious revenue projections.

There is agreement that teachers and service workers are underpaid and overdue for a raise.  An increase of five percent, plus the annual $500 experience increment, is respectable.  It means the average teacher will see their base salary increase about $2,500 next year.

School has been out for portions of three weeks now. The priority has to be getting kids back in the classroom.  It’s not worth quibbling over one percent.

We have seen what happens when there is a presumption that the strike enthusiasm will fade. It hasn’t so far and there is no evidence that it will. We cannot afford any more miscalculations.

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