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Option for States Dealing with Illegal Teacher Union Strikes

An uptick in teacher union strikes has occurred over past few months. Teachers have abandoned students in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma with rumblings of a potential strike in Arizona. What is spurring this increase in union walk-outs? Governing magazine puts forth the idea that the labor laws in these Republican-dominated states, which limit union collective bargaining privileges, may be a contributing factor.

But anyone who has been watching the U.S. Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, which could eliminate public-sector union’s ability to compel workers to pay union fees, might have been able to predict labor unions would flex their power by walking off the job. 

A union organizer wrote in the Washington Post, “If the Supreme Court rules against unions, conservatives won’t like what happens next.” The argument pushed forth by the author is if unions do not get what they want, they will create “chaos and discord.” This argument was also brought up by AFSCME, though less bluntly, during oral argument in the Janus case.

The union attorney argued that unions bargain for the ability to collect agency fees in exchange for no-strike clauses in collective bargaining agreements. This has been a bad trade for government employers. Empirical evidence shows strikes in the public sector occur more often when government unions are permitted to collect agency fees from non-union members than in states where they cannot.

Perhaps government unions are trying to give the Supreme Court a preview of what will happen if forced union dues are found unconstitutional in hopes the high court will side with unions over worker freedom. Even if this isn’t the case, such a juvenile position—withholding public services unless public employers concede to union demands—should not be persuasive.

Bill Messenger, an attorney with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, who represented Mark Janus before the Supreme Court, compares the union claim that the only way to “prevent unions from striking” is to permit the collection of forced union dues “a form of protection money.”

State and local governments should stand strong against these illegal strikes. And some state labor laws offer a remedy that is likely to end these illegal strikes and conceivably make unions in other states think twice about staging walk-outs.

According to Oklahoma statute, under Title 10, Section 509.8, teacher union strikes are illegal and “If the organization or its members engage in a strike, then the organization shall cease to be recognized as representative of the unit and the school district shall be relieved of the duty to negotiate with such organization or its representatives.”

States could prevent illegal strikes if they started revoking labor union’s status as the recognized exclusive representative and told these unions they no longer must collectively bargain with them.