There’s a Strike On

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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68 Responses

  1. fillyjonk says:

    I’m watching it with interest as there’s a good likelihood at least some of the teachers in my state will strike (over similar reasons: it’s widely reported many schoolteachers have to work second jobs, like cashiering at wal-mart, to make ends meet). A starting teacher here makes about $32,000. Granted, our cost of living is lower than many places but…yeah. I make not-quite-twice that *and* I am single and childless and have to budget fairly carefully. I can’t imagine being a single parent making $32K and managing without family help or a side-hustle.

    Many of our school districts have gone to four-day weeks (with each of those four days being longer) to try to save money (and also to free up teachers to work at their second job, I guess). It makes it a nightmare for people working in OTHER fields to arrange for childcare. I’ve had a few student-parents have to skip class because of it…

    Neighbor states pay more so one of the issues we have is that teachers pick up and leave for those neighboring states if they can. It can be hard to attract people in certain areas (I do not know but I assume there is some kind of an incentive if you’re math or special-ed or one of the hard-to-get specialties).

    I will say I can see a decline in the preparedness of students from my state (I teach college) in recent years. No idea if that’s related to teacher pay and the related “brain drain” to other states (and rising class sizes, and loss of some of the nicer parts of the curriculum).

    Will the media be there for us? I dunno. My cynical side says the media loves to paint us as red-state hillbilly hicks, and so that will color their reporting, but then again, West Virginia also suffered that same stereotype… I know there is a strong anti-tax sentiment in my state that has led to several measures that would raise teacher pay and fix other issues; we cannot deficit-spend so when there’s a financial hole, cuts have to be made. In Higher Ed, we are living the life of 1000 cuts right now…two years ago we had to take furlough days (and a 9% pay cut because of that) and that was….upsetting. (I personally found the whole being told “You cannot work during furlough days but the work you have must still get done” thing confusing and upsetting, but I know I am far too literal-minded and too much of a rule-follower. A lot of us DID grade and the like on furlough days; we just did not come in to our office or look at e-mail. We were also told to take our furlough time without cancelling class and I complied; next time I might not, I don’t know.)

    I also acknowledge that Higher Ed is far more expendable than common ed; I would not be surprised to see consolidations or closings of some of our smaller state unis in coming years. I hope and pray it comes AFTER I am of an age to retire, because the through of moving or having to re-tool for a new career kind of undoes me…

    Our legislature talks a good game about wanting an educated workforce but they seem unwilling to do what it takes to achieve that.Report

  2. Kolohe says:

    What is the relationship between Obamacare and the fight over PEIA? Was Obamacare on track to help rein in PEIA costs before it got gutted? Did it make it worse from the outset? Or are they independent events?Report

  3. Doctor Jay says:

    My understanding is that the trigger for the strike in WV is actually the teacher’s health insurance.

    For instance, Jacobin is reporting this. Not that they are a go-to source for me, but I would be surprised if they published wrong facts.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      You are right. Scott at LGM posted this interview on the huge increase to healthcare costs:

      They told us that essentially if you weren’t a single person, if you had a family plan, your health insurance was going to rise substantially. As a West Virginia teacher — and I’ve been teaching 10 years — I only clear right under $1,300 every two weeks, and they’re wanting to take $300 more away for me. But they tell me it’s O.K., because we’re going to give you a 1 percent pay raise. That equals out to 88 cents every two days.

      They implemented Go365, which is an app that I’m supposed to download on my phone, to track my steps, to earn points through this app. If I don’t earn enough points, and if I choose not to use the app, then I’m penalized $500 at the end of the year. People felt that was very invasive, to have to download that app and to be forced into turning over sensitive information.

      She makes 31200 in net pay and the West Virginia state government wanted to reduce that significantly. Plus they wanted to make her track herself.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        They did it in the dumbest way possible.

        Penalize $500? Make it a stick? Asinine.

        They could have saved a *LOT* of money by holding that money in a pot in the first place and saying “oh, and if you want a $500 bonus, just wear this fitbit and walk two miles a day!”

        Turn it into a carrot.

        I mean, if you’re into the whole “Panopticon Neoliberalism” thing in the first place.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      My understanding is that the trigger for the strike in WV is actually the teacher’s health insurance.

      That’s my understanding as well. And if that’s correct, it may explain why (self-identified) leading-indicator agenda-setting papers like NYT are a bit hands off on the issue right now. They’re waiting to see a narrative emerge which doesn’t so clearly pit healthcare against red state rugged individualism. Teachers are sympathetic figures and it would be all-too-easy for people to sympathize with them and liberalish healthcare solutions in this case.Report

      • Doctor Jay in reply to Stillwater says:

        I’m not sure I understand you. In they eyes of some conservatives, the NYT is very liberal, and happy to propagandize for liberal causes. (I have mixed feelings about this, but that’s not relevant at the moment) What I think you are saying is that the people at the NYT know this, and are treading lightly so as to not put their stamp on that narrative and thus have it dismissed lightly as “fake news”. Do I have that right?Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Doctor Jay says:

          Conservatives think NYT is a liberal paper because of its fashion section, seems to me. It’s not a liberal paper. If it *were* they’d be writing about the WV teachers strike in precisely the terms we’re talking about: as a strike protesting out of control health insurance costs and the bad effects of tax cuts which only single payer and higher taxes can solve. I think they’re treading lightly because the core issues of the dispute are potentially explosive in terms of policy and politics.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Stillwater says:

            Now that is an interesting view! I’m not sure I agree.

            There is a big split between the Times as a reporting organization and the Op-Ed page and it is growing.

            I would say that a lot of the reporting the Times does is on the liberal side or has liberal sympathies but not obviously so. They still do some of the best shoe-leather reporting in the country and are among the few outfits to have a budget for serious investigative reporting on national and international issues.

            The Op-Ed section is weird and everyone sees what they want it. Conservatives look at Krugman, Charles Blow, or Michelle Goldberg and Gail Collins and see a liberal mouthpiece. Liberals get angry at this because of Ross D, David Brooks, Bari Weiss, and Brett Stephens. James Bennett doesn’t help himself by pompously declaring pissing off readers means he is doing his job right.

            I would say that the Times editorial page tries to be conventional in ways that are only going to please the Bloomberg set. This group is small in number but powerful in terms of dollar.Report

            • Marchmaine in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              David Brooks… and… angry? Do people get angry at a David Brooks? I thought bemused was the proper response.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Marchmaine says:

                I think it is a generational split on the left. I think older liberals like him because he reminds them of Rockefeller Republicans. But he is obviously not welcome in today’s GOP and has a tight-rope to walk in order to keep his sweet gig and (presumably) high salary.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Interesting… wonder what happens when Brooks is the archetype for no known political faction.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Marchmaine says:

                Man, I’m outa touch. As the godfather of BSDI-above-the-frayism I thought he was already there.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to Stillwater says:

                Welllllll, as long as there were Acela Corridor Republican establishment types that were fiscally patrician and socially curious he represented patrons, if not really a constituents.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Marchmaine says:

                @stillwater @marchmaine

                Brooks sells nostalgia. He mainly sells nostalgia to older liberals who can remember when the Republican Party had people like Jacob Javits or even William Danforth.

                These people will never vote Republican but if they did, it was for someone like Jacob Javits.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Now I think you’re underselling Brooks.

                I can’t say what the NYT’s motives are, but that’s not remotely Brooks’ project or even a reasonable assessment of his work.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Marchmaine says:

                Since I’m tagged on that comment too, I agree, March. Whatever Brooks is doing it’s more than telling Lake Wobegon stories in the oped page.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Stillwater says:

                Where all the Republicans are strong, all the Republicans are good looking, and all the Republicans are above averageReport

            • InMD in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              @saul-degraw I think what @stillwater is saying is true, but I don’t think it’s a liberal versus conservative dispute in the paradigm the NYT or most of the MSM operates in. Understanding it means grappling with the PPACA as the doomed half measure it was, and the broader implications that has about our system. That is disturbing territory for the NYT.Report

  4. Murali says:

    Somewhat relatedly, academics in the UK are striking as well.

  5. Damon says:

    “Work stoppages by public employees are not lawful in West Virginia ”

    IIRC Reagan found a way to end the the ATC strike……Report

    • fillyjonk in reply to Damon says:

      If they fire the teachers: good luck at finding new ones who will teach for that price. I think that’s why the OK teachers feel emboldened to strike, they know strikebreakers will be hard to come by.Report

      • Damon in reply to fillyjonk says:

        Who said that the state is required to educate kids? They could take the public school budget and give each family the per rata rate of funding. Done and done.Report

        • CJColucci in reply to Damon says:

          I don’t know about West Virginia specifically, but in many states, the state constitution does.Report

          • Damon in reply to CJColucci says:

            Channeling my best Bill Clinton “I guess it depends upon the definition of “educate” or “funding”. One could interpret the requirement to educate kids as “providing the funding”, when then could be interpreted as “cutting a check to the parents”.Report

        • James K in reply to Damon says:


          Suggest to parents that they should have to deal with their children all day and there will be riots.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Damon says:

      @damon And Reagan should be remembered as the monster that he was.

      These teachers are doing thankless work at underpaid prices in a state that is already facing a grim teachers’ shortage. Idiots proposing to fire them all – as is occasionally happening around here – would damn a generation of children or more simply to satisfy their own conservative bloodlust to keep certain employees in their servile place. That the majority of those striking are women, and that the majority of those proposing that they all be fired are men, cannot be ignored either.Report

      • Damon in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Yes, a monster…a MONSTER!

        Look, the union and the members are in violation of the law. Period. Frankly, none of the rest of your comments matter. The union could have spent the time to work to get the laws changed, but didn’t or weren’t successful. What’s the better choice, in your words, ” keep certain employees in their servile place. ” or to “damn a generation of children”. Frankly, I’d go with the children. They deserve an education and should not be made pawns in contract negotiations.Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Damon says:

          @daman You’re the one with the plan to fire 20,000 employees rather than pay them what they’re worth, then somehow replace 20,000 employees here.

          In other words, you’re the one who wants to damn children. Don’t get confused about that. And don’t pretend like you give a damn anyway.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


            Does WV require teachers to be certified? If so, I venture to guess that replacing 20K teachers goes from incredibly difficult to actually impossible in any reasonable amount of time.Report

          • Damon in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            Actually, their “worth” is determined by the market demand and supply for their labor. Given that they are in a union, I’d expect that their pay is actually higher than the market clearing rate for teachers in WVA.

            “And don’t pretend like you give a damn anyway” No, I don’t give a damn either way. I don’t live in WVA, although I used to visit extended family there, so if their education system is crap, so what? I’m opposed to public sector unions and I’m for sure as hell against permitting a union to strike when it’s clearly against the law to do so.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Damon says:

              The state is in breach of contract; they’re not funding PEIA to the agreed-upon level. The teachers are entirely justified in not working when they’re not being paid the agreed amount.Report

              • Damon in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                That’s an issue for the negotiators or the civil courts. What part of:

                ““Work stoppages by public employees are not lawful in West Virginia ”

                Is unclear?

                It’s like driving a car with a takata airbag. You either violate federal law (by disabling the airbag and risk criminal sanctions) or you keep driving and hope not to get killed. You can thank “your” gov’t for the conundrum.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Damon says:

                That’s an opinion by the state attorney general, isn’t it? Not spelled out in statute or a court ruling. I recall reading that when a similar situation reached the WV supreme court some decades back, the court’s opinion was that (a) there was no right to strike but (b) any consequences for failure to show up to work were a local disciplinary matter.

                AG opinions turn out to be wrong on a regular basis. The court might reach a different conclusion this time — WV school funding has almost certainly followed the national pattern, with state-level funding a much bigger piece of the school budgets than it used to be. Still, it’s a stretch to see why the AG would be involved rather than the local school boards or the state board of education.Report

              • Damon in reply to Michael Cain says:

                As Will. It was in the original posting.

                But it’s all moot anyway since the state caved.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Damon says:

                “You are obligated to work whether you’re being paid according to your contract or not” is an interesting legal opinion.Report

              • Damon in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Tell that to all the military guys who got hit with “stop / loss” and get back to me.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        If Reagan were to be remembered as a monster, it should be for establishing the Double Santa Claus theory of government as a winning strategy.

        As it is, we have this entrenched idea that we can have high functioning, top of the line first world services with third world levels of taxation.Report

        • James K in reply to Chip Daniels says:


          That’s it precisely, though Reagan is hardly unusual in employing it. In the long-run fiscal responsibility is not optional. It can be attained by raising taxes, or cutting spending or some combination of the two, but one way or another voters are going to have to put up with getting less from the government on net.Report

        • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Amen, I’d definitely agree that popularizing the “Starve the Beast/Laffer curve” nonsense and the whole “Somehow we’ll tantrum the other party into cutting spending when they’re in power to clean up our shit” line of thought in the GOP as one of Ronnie’s most long reaching errors.Report

      • Reagan might have been a monster and I’m prepared to say that for public safety reasons, he probably made the wrong call in the ATC strike. I believe, however, that the ATC union was in the wrong in that dispute.

        I believed the Chicago teachers union was also in the wrong in their dispute. I have no informed opinion about the West Virginia strike. (My opinion about the CTU strike isn’t particularly informed, either, but it’s more informed than my opinion about the WV strike.)Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        You’re right—the public school system needs to be broken up to prevent it from continuing to abuse its monopsony power.Report

        • The Question in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          You know if we keep breaking the commons up enough your eventually not going to have anything to hold us together.

          I mean if you’re fine saying poor kids are just going to get screwed while the rich get to go ahead because that’s how money works then own that.

          But just saying hey let’s break up public education it doesn’t work at all ignores how much better it works than what happened before public education. Its one of the founding things our country did. land grant colleges back before you needed primary schooling to go to a college.Report

  6. greginak says:

    There is likely some media bias but not quite the way you phrase it. Unions are bad old leftie orgs not flashy new gig economy start up entrepreneurs. Big media, you know those things owned by giant corporations, are not all that union friendly. Ordinary old school unions just help those darn public employees raid the treasury. Modern news room types will have relatively few connections to union members and far more familiar with business types. Sure the Chicago teachers got airtime but being in a big city will do that. The big media leans left in some ways and leans away in others.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

      The hypocrisy thing among the publishers? “Hey, guys… I just noticed that if we show solidarity with West Virginia teachers, we might have to show solidarity with the journos on the floor when they try to start a union!”

      “Okay. What if we didn’t do either one?”Report

      • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        I know i’m saying something heretical. It is Established Fact that the MSM is Liberal so how could they have biases that don’t’ favor the left.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

          Well, if you’re interested in what’s going on with the Vox Union, you can follow them on twitter here.

          The recent drama seems to involve the negotiations last week involving the recently unionized who were laid off.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to greginak says:

      I think you are largely right. The average journalist is and/or now aspires to be a member of the upper-middle professional class and generally seems to be a kind of socially liberal (or at least moderate) but combined with a largely pro-capitalist and business overview. The journalist wants to be at the table of the Anywheres and given Ted talks and at Aspen.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Courtier and sinecure underused words that really need to come back into use in the modern era of inequality.Report

      • Doctor Jay in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        This seems like a good moment to discuss the usage of the word “capitalism”. To me, the alternative to capitalism is a state-run economy, such as the Soviet Union of the 50s and 60s, or the Chinese economy of a similar time.

        I am really, really clear that I don’t want that.

        And, AND, I am content with a hybrid economy, where we allow a free or regulated market in as many sectors as we can, which is as free as we can possibly make it, while realizing certain social goals, such as health care and retirement benefits for all.

        So, describing me as pro-capitalist is either kind of hostile, or really quite friendly. It’s deeply ambiguous.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Doctor Jay says:

          I concur and I am largely for a hybrid economy but a lot of people seem to see this as nothing but the path to pure communism and will fight it against it with every nerve cell in their body.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Doctor Jay says:

          This ventures into politics linkage but Vox has an interesting interview with Yascha Mounk about growing Western disillusionment with Liberal Democracy:

          The key issue seems that Liberal Democracy no longer produces popular policies being enacted and income inequality.

          I think this is largely right. The big issue as I see it is that the “anywhere” or “neo-liberal” wing or whatever you want to call it and shrugs. Or they don’t quite shrug but their response always seems to be “I know these are issue but there is nothing really to do about it because in the end Anywhereism/Corporatism/Globalism is just better.” I can never tell if this is self-serving defense tactics, sincerity, or a bit of both.

          My view is that if you want to prove liberal democracy is good for all then you have to come up with a better response than “Yeah these are problems but what you are gonna do?” But it seems impossible to snap the adherents of what we call globalism/neoliberalism into this view even as populist and right-wing parties are on the rise.Report

          • Marchmaine in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Know what’s better than a Vox article?

            The Italian Elections.

            {edit: but I meant to add that I think your observation is correct… that’s the crisis of liberalism at the moment… change, co-opt, and redirect… but sneering is not a plan.}Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Marchmaine says:

              Yascha Mounk wrote about those in Slate with alarm:


              With The Simpsons as a helpful cheat sheet, here’s what you need to know about yesterday’s results:

              • Krusty the Clown, aka the Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five Star Movement), came out as the strongest political party, taking about one-third of the vote nationwide. Radically critical of all existing political institutions, the Five Star Movement has recently started to deploy more anti-immigrant rhetoric, has received sizeable support from Russian sources in the past, and is seemingly run by a shadowy PR firm. Although its leaders pledged that they would stay in opposition, they are now demanding to take a role in the government.

              • Snake Jailbird, aka the Lega Nord (Northern League), took about 18 percent of the vote. Founded as a separatist party that advocated for the independence of the country’s affluent north, the League has, under the leadership of Matteo Salvini, transformed itself into a hypernationalist and virulently xenophobic party in the mold of France’s National Front. When a former candidate for the party shot six African migrants in the city of Macerata in the middle of the campaign, Salvini pointedly refused to condemn him.

              • Mr. Burns, aka former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, took 14 percent of the vote. Berlusconi, a self-made billionaire who dominated Italian politics from 1994 until his ignominious fall from power in 2011, is simultaneously an ideological moderate whose economic and social policies are largely within the bounds of ordinary Italian politics and an institutional radical who has weakened the Italian judiciary to keep himself out of jail.

              That being said, I am not sure how much of it is a self-serving sneer and how much of it is a shrug about “other things have been tried before and failed. This might be bad but it is the least bad.” I’m also not a super-fan of the Anywhere/Somewhere dichotomy because it is too broad-stroked. In someways, I am just a locked in somewhere (I can only practice law in California and New York). In other ways, I am an anywhere (I can get along with professional class types in most situations) but I’m far from being a consultant who travels all the time and switches countries of residence easily and frequently.

              But an honest shrug can still be self-serving.Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            This ties up with Amy Chua’s ideas on political tribes. When America was a White Protestant majority country, the White Protestant majority could persecute other groups but they could also, when they felt like it, afford to be really generous. Now no political group or tribe is really dominate in most democracies and either feels that their place is under siege or that they are still actively persecuted and things are getting worse. This makes people really unwilling to play nice with other groups.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        This seems appropriate here:

        Off the coast of Monaco in the summers of 2014 and 2015, I discovered what I thought was a sort of journalistic nirvana for my job as The Wall Street Journal foreign affairs correspondent, in the form of a yacht, the Conquistador. It was owned by an Iranian-American businessman and aviation magnate named Farhad Azima, who’d grown wealthy over the decades by servicing secretive Pentagon defense contracts and growing a fleet of private aircraft. The scene on the boat mixed James Bond and Fantasy Island, all crystal blue waters, champagne cocktails, and breezy meals on the upper deck.


    • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

      In this case I am using bias to explain union-hostile (or at least indifferent) coverage in one case and union-friendly in another, not general media approach or bias towards unions. I think that one teachers union was up against a Democrat associated with the Obama Administration and the other teacher union was not may have influenced coverage, along with the other factors presented.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        FWIW a lot of Democrats really hate Rahm Emmanuel and his political career is basically over. Not everyone is enthused with Cuomo but Cuomo in NY either but there is a big difference between Cuomo and Emmanuel. Cuomo is transactional enough that he can be moved with the right incentives to advocate for progressive policy. Emmanuel seems to be a true believer in privatization and is out of step with the Democratic base now.

        A lot of people were really upset when the head of the Chicago Teacher’s Union was diagnosed with brain cancer. They thought she could be a formidable primary opponent against Rahm.Report

        • @saul-degraw

          A lot of people were really upset when the head of the Chicago Teacher’s Union was diagnosed with brain cancer. They thought she could be a formidable primary opponent against Rahm.

          Mine is only an anecdote of one, but I find/found Lewis to be way too polarizing to win against Rahm. I voted for Rahm’s opponents in the election and the runoff. If Lewis were his principal opponent, I would have voted against her in a heartbeat.Report

  7. PD Shaw says:

    Living in Illinois, I lack perspective on national media environment, but (1) Rahm himself is largely a creation of the national media/political environment, whose admirers and coverage are built on D.C. fundraising connections; (2) the buildup to the strike arose amidst the perception that public teacher’s unions were a wedge issue among Democrats, one which Rahm was expected to resolve with national significance; and (3) most would say Rahm lost, though the strike was followed by the largest school closings in city history. Subsequently, there has been declining enrollment and continued teacher declines.

    The wedge exists, as evidenced by a bipartisan agreement to provide a massive tax break for scholarships for low income students to go to private schools. There is little/no appetite among Democrats to attack teachers or devalue the importance of education, but people are voting with their feet either literally by leaving the City or by enrolling their kids in private schools. Neither the union, nor the Mayor seem to have been able to craft an alternative, mostly because the City is so saddled with pension debt that all other paths seem closed.

    In comparison, there was a strike about that time in a rural community where Mother Jones is buried (Mount Olive), which received almost no coverage as well. Usually the problem with rural communities are treated as if merger and consolidation of smaller districts are needed. (Which may be true, but it doesn’t usually save money)Report

    • fillyjonk in reply to PD Shaw says:

      A bill here to consolidate a lot of rural districts was killed last week. On the one hand, I can sympathize with the parents: if I had a child, I wouldn’t want them facing a 45 minute bus ride or something to a consolidated school. On the other hand, the damn state is broke and if consolidation keeps things afloat, maybe that’s a bitter pill we have to swallow. I don’t know.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to fillyjonk says:

        Consolidation here meant whichever school had the higher salary/benefits became the salary/benefits of the consolidated school. Whatever advantages obtained by shared facilities were mostly eaten by increased busing costs.

        The more likely benefit was in having high schools with at least 500 students, more educational opportunities can be offered.Report

    • gabriel conroy in reply to PD Shaw says:

      That sounds about right to me, @pd-shaw .Report