Across the United States and throughout history, teachers have banded together to strike to meet their demands. The strike may be about low pay, safety, or health, but no matter what, strikes have been a well-known group strategy in many different industries. So, why can’t Texas teachers strike?
Teachers in Texas can’t strike because the state law doesn’t allow it. If they strike they will lose some of their rights and privileges and might be fired.
In this guide, we’ll break down the Texas state laws regarding teacher strikes, how they affect teachers, and the reactions from teachers in the state. We will also answer many common questions regarding teacher strikes in Texas.
Why Can’t Texas Teachers Strike?
A Texas state law, specifically Title 6, Subtitle A, Chapter 617 of the Texas Government Code, prevents public employees from participating in a strike or any other “organized work stoppage.”
If a teacher were to strike or participate in any organized work stoppage in the state of Texas, the law states the individual would lose:
- Civil service rights
- Reemployment rights
- Any other rights, benefits, or privileges they enjoy as a public employee
Losing these rights, benefits, and privileges could mean having their teaching license suspended or revoked, and their access to the Teacher Retirement System could be denied.
What Can Texas Teachers Do?
Some teachers in Texas have voiced their opinions on the Texas law preventing strikes, many saying the law prevents teachers from being able to voice their opinions or protest for themselves.
The Texas state law preventing teacher strikes is vague, and the main issue is that a lack of court decisions on the matter means no one knows what counts as “organized work stoppage.”
In other states where teacher strikes are against the law, teachers have found ways around the law, such as teachers in Kentucky who used sick days to organize a faux strike. Some Texas teachers have considered trying similar methods, but the risk is too high for many.
Reasons Teachers Strike
Many issues have inspired strikes and other teacher labor movements, such as health, safety, and pay issues.
Here are some of the specific issues that Texas teachers have been protesting:
- Low pay: Texas teachers are among the lowest-paid in the country. The average teacher salary in Texas is just over $54,000, significantly lower than the national average of $61,333.
- Overcrowded classrooms: Texas classrooms are often overcrowded, making it difficult for teachers to give their students the attention they need. The average class size in Texas is 23 students per teacher, which is higher than the national average of 18.1 students per teacher.
- Lack of resources: Texas schools often lack the resources to provide their students with a quality education. This includes textbooks, computers, and other instructional materials.
- Unrealistic expectations: Texas teachers are often expected to work long hours and take on additional responsibilities, such as coaching sports teams and tutoring students. This can lead to burnout and stress.
Texas teachers are committed to providing their students with the best possible education. They believe they deserve a fair wage and the resources needed to do their jobs well. They continue to fight for change, even in the face of legal restrictions.
As the threat of COVID emerged in 2020, health became a serious issue on the minds of many teachers. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, most schools in the United States were closed, and learning switched to online.
However, as COVID numbers dropped, schools began reopening, and the CDC recognized an increase in transmission as schools became outbreak centers in some cases.
When schools returned to in-person teaching, many teachers organized strikes against the health risks the reopening posed.
Some education leaders have organized protests over the lack of restrictions on guns that they say have put teachers and students in greater danger.
There have been many student walkouts over the issue of guns and mass shootings, but teachers in many states have been reluctant to join their students due to laws like the one in Texas or the risk of facing retaliation for their participation.
Many teachers have fought for low pay and a lack of benefits. The strike has often been a powerful negotiating tool for teachers, with many strikes ending successfully with the administration and/or government agreeing to the demands of teachers.
Legal Challenges to The Ban on Teacher Strikes in Texas
While strikes are prohibited for Texas teachers under state law, there are alternative methods that teachers can use to advocate for their rights and improve working conditions. Here are some alternatives that teachers in Texas have utilized:
- Lobbying and advocacy: Teachers can lobby to advocate for their interests and influence education policies. They can form coalitions or join existing organizations that work to advance the rights and welfare of educators. These groups can help teachers amplify their voices and make their concerns known to policymakers.
- Public demonstrations and rallies: Teachers can organize public demonstrations and rallies to bring attention to their concerns. These events can include marches, rallies at the state capitol, or other forms of peaceful protest. By gathering large numbers and generating media coverage, teachers can raise public awareness about the issues they face and build support for their cause.
- Work-to-rule actions: Work-to-rule actions involve teachers adhering strictly to the terms of their employment contracts and refusing to perform any voluntary or additional duties. While work-to-rule activities do not disrupt regular school operations, they can still draw attention to teachers’ concerns by highlighting the extra work and contributions that teachers typically make beyond their contractual obligations.
- Engaging with the community: Teachers can engage with parents, community members, and other stakeholders to build support for their cause. They can communicate their concerns, share their experiences, and explain how certain issues affect students and education. By fostering community involvement, teachers can increase the likelihood of positive change and garner broader support for their efforts.
- Utilizing social media and online platforms: Social media and online platforms provide teachers with powerful tools for organizing, sharing information, and mobilizing support. Teachers can use these platforms to share stories, raise awareness about their working conditions, and connect with educators who share similar concerns. Teachers can amplify their voices and reach a wider audience by utilizing technology effectively.
- Legal challenges: As mentioned earlier, teachers and teacher organizations can explore legal challenges to the ban on strikes, arguing that it infringes on their constitutional rights. While previous legal challenges have not been successful in overturning the ban, continued advocacy and legal efforts could potentially lead to changes in the future.
It’s important to note that these alternatives may not have the same immediate impact as a strike. However, they can still effectively raise awareness, build support, and advocate for change. Teachers in Texas have successfully utilized these methods to bring attention to their concerns and push for improvements in their working conditions.
Historical Teacher Strikes in Texas
Teacher strikes have played a significant role in the history of labor movements within the United States, including in Texas. However, it’s important to note that Texas is one of the states where public employee strikes are illegal. Here is an overview of notable events related to teacher strikes and labor actions in Texas:
- Edgewood Independent School District v. Kirby (1984): While not a strike, this landmark legal case involved teachers and school districts in Texas, leading to significant reforms in school finance. The Edgewood ISD in San Antonio brought the case, representing poorer school districts, and highlighting the disparities in funding between wealthy and poor districts. The Texas Supreme Court’s decision led to the “Robin Hood” plan, where property tax revenue from wealthier districts is shared with poorer ones.
- Ysleta Teachers Association (YTA) Protest (1992): In 1992, members of the Ysleta Teachers Association in El Paso conducted a “sick out” to protest their salaries and working conditions. While not a strike, this form of protest involved a large number of teachers calling in sick on the same day to highlight their demands.
- San Antonio Teacher Protests (2010): Teachers in San Antonio held demonstrations to protest budget cuts and proposed changes to teacher contracts. These actions, while not strikes, were part of a broader wave of teacher activism in Texas that sought to draw attention to the impact of state budget cuts on education.
- Statewide Teacher Protests (2011): Texas faced significant teacher protests in response to proposed budget cuts to public education, totaling approximately $5 billion. Teachers across the state rallied and held protests at the Texas State Capitol and in their local districts to express their opposition to the cuts. While these actions did not result in a traditional strike, they showed a collective action from educators and supporters for better funding and support for public education.
- Red for Ed Movement (2018-Present): The Red for Ed movement is a nationwide campaign that advocates for higher teacher pay and better funding for schools. In Texas, teachers have participated in demonstrations and lobbying efforts to advance these goals. While a strike is not legally an option, these efforts show a form of collective action to influence public policy and education funding.
Although outright strikes are uncommon and illegal for teachers in Texas, educators have found other ways to voice their concerns and advocate for change. These actions often involve rallies, protests, and legal challenges rather than traditional strikes due to the legal constraints in Texas.
Laws and regulations Compared with Other States
The laws and regulations regarding teacher strikes vary significantly across the United States, with Texas representing one of the more restrictive environments for such labor actions. Here’s a comparative analysis highlighting the variations in policies and their potential impact on teacher advocacy:
- Legal Stance: Strikes by public employees, including teachers, are illegal.
- Consequences: Participants in strikes can face dismissal, revocation of teaching certificates, and other penalties.
- Advocacy Approaches: Teachers and unions in Texas engage in advocacy through lobbying, non-strike demonstrations, legal action on related issues, and political engagement rather than through strikes.
Permissive States (e.g., California, Oregon)
- Legal Stance: Teacher strikes are legal under certain conditions, often after a formal bargaining process has failed.
- Consequences: While there may still be consequences for striking, they are typically not as severe as in Texas and are often negotiated as part of the resolution to the strike.
- Advocacy Approaches: Teachers can use strikes as leverage in negotiations, which can lead to more direct changes in policies and contracts.
Mixed Regulation States (e.g., Pennsylvania, Ohio)
- Legal Stance: Strikes are legal under specific circumstances but may be subject to more stringent conditions than in permissive states.
- Consequences: Consequences are regulated and may include fines or other penalties, but typically not as severe as loss of certification.
- Advocacy Approaches: Teacher unions may strike but often use other forms of advocacy in parallel, such as public campaigns and political lobbying, to avoid the risks and disruption of strikes.
Prohibitive States (e.g., North Carolina, Virginia)
- Legal Stance: Similar to Texas, these states prohibit strikes by public employees, including teachers.
- Consequences: Consequences of illegal strikes can include termination of employment and legal penalties.
- Advocacy Approaches: Teachers are likelier to use advocacy methods such as demonstrations, petitions, and engaging with lawmakers to influence education policy.
Impact on Teacher Advocacy
- Negotiating Power: In states where strikes are legal, teachers typically have more negotiating power, which can result in better compensation, benefits, and working conditions.
- Union Strength: States with permissive strike laws tend to have stronger teacher unions, as the potential for strikes gives them a powerful tool in negotiations.
- Policy Influence: The ability to strike can influence policy more directly, as the threat or actuality of a strike can exert pressure on school districts and legislators to address teachers’ demands.
- Public Perception: Strikes can also affect public perception; they can either generate public sympathy and support for teachers or lead to frustration and backlash, depending on how the strikes are conducted and perceived.
- Educational Outcomes: Frequent or prolonged strikes can disrupt the educational process and negatively impact students, which is a consideration in the debate over the legality and use of strikes.
Alternatives to Strikes for Texas Teachers
Under Texas law, teacher strikes are illegal. However, teachers still have alternative methods to express their concerns and advocate for change.
- Organizing Rallies and Demonstrations: Teachers can organize rallies and demonstrations to draw attention to their concerns and demand change. These events can be held during non-work hours and can involve teachers, parents, students, and community members who support the cause. Rallies can be an effective way to generate public awareness and put pressure on policymakers to address the issues raised.
- Engaging in Collective Bargaining Campaigns: While Texas does not have state-level collective bargaining rights for public employees, including teachers, some school districts have local collective bargaining agreements. Teachers can work towards establishing collective bargaining rights in their district by organizing campaigns, building support among colleagues and community members, and advocating for legislation that supports collective bargaining rights for educators.
- Building Coalitions with Parent and Community Groups: Teachers can collaborate with parent and community groups to amplify their voices and advocate for change together. By forming alliances, teachers can tap into existing networks, gain public support, and work towards common goals. Joint efforts can include organizing town hall meetings, writing letters to policymakers, and engaging in community outreach initiatives.
- Engaging in Political Advocacy: Teachers can actively participate in political advocacy to influence education policy and funding decisions. This can involve contacting local and state representatives, attending school board meetings, and supporting candidates who prioritize education issues. By engaging in the political process, teachers can contribute to shaping policies that address their concerns and improve the education system.
- Utilizing Social Media and Online Platforms: Social media and online platforms provide teachers with a powerful tool to raise awareness, share information, and build support networks. Teachers can create dedicated social media accounts or use existing platforms to share stories, resources, and updates on education-related issues. Online petitions, blogs, and forums can also serve as platforms for teachers to express their concerns and gather support.
While strikes are illegal for Texas teachers, there are alternative methods to voice concerns, advocate for change, and work towards improving the education system.
By organizing rallies, engaging in collective bargaining campaigns, building coalitions with parent and community groups, participating in political advocacy, and utilizing social media platforms, teachers can make their voices heard and contribute to positive change within the constraints of the law.
Teachers need to collaborate, stay informed, and strategize effectively to bring about the improvements they seek in their profession and the education system.
Texas Teacher Strike FAQs
Here are some common questions people have regarding Texas teachers and striking.
In which state is it illegal for teachers to strike?
Many states have made striking teachers illegal. The states that have laws that explicitly state that teachers cannot engage in collective bargaining or striking are Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
The states that explicitly state that striking as teachers is a legal activity are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.
Can you get fired for striking in Texas?
For employees in the private sector, striking is a legally protected activity. You must be participating in a “protected strike” (meaning it falls under the guidelines) for it to be a legal right.
Teachers are considered public employees, which is why their right to strike or collective bargaining is not legally protected. Teachers can be fired for striking in Texas.
Does Texas allow unions?
Unions are legal in Texas. Teacher’s unions are somewhat legal in Texas. The primary characteristics of unions in most states are the ability to negotiate, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, and the ability to create contracts. None of these characteristics are legal for teachers in the state of Texas.
Two organizations in Texas claim themselves as Teacher’s Unions, though they do not have the power to strike or negotiate.
Why are unions illegal in Texas?
Unions are not illegal in Texas, but Texas is what is known as a “right-to-work” state. The ability to form or join a union is a right protected by the National Labor Relations Act across the United States.
A right-to-work state is a state that makes it illegal to deny someone employment because they do not join a union. The National Labor Relations Act only applies to jobs in the private sector, and the state controls the laws surrounding labor in the public sector. Texas has made it illegal to strike or engage in collective bargaining in the public sector, not the private sector.
Can teachers join a union in Texas?
Teachers are allowed to form or join a union in Texas, but those unions are not allowed to do some things. Most unions are defined by their ability to negotiate contracts, organize strikes, and engage in collective bargaining. For unions in Texas, these are all illegal activities for teachers.
So teachers can join a union and are legally protected from their employer firing them for joining or forming a union. But the union is not allowed to organize strikes, any organized work stoppage or engage in collective bargaining.
Unions in the private sector in Texas have the right to engage in these activities.
Christian Linden is a seasoned writer and contributor at Texas View, specializing in topics that resonate with the Texan community. With over a decade of experience in journalism, Christian brings a wealth of knowledge in local politics, culture, and lifestyle. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Texas. When he's not writing, Christian enjoys spending weekends traveling across Texas with his family, exploring everything from bustling cities to serene landscapes.