Fewer teacher strikes are expected across the country this year, continuing the downward trend of the late 1970s. If the current level of strike activity continues, this could be one of the lowest strike turnouts in recent years.
Economics and politics are major factors in the sharp decline in the number of strikes so far.
As of last week, strikes had delayed school openings for an estimated 185,000 students in at least eight states. But many students and teachers were back in classrooms this week. Bargaining is still going on in some cities, but serious walkouts appear unlikely.
The decline in the number of strikes is in part a result of bargaining cycles; fewer large contracts were open for renegotiation this year. Other factors, however, have limited strikes to between 10,000 and 12,000 teachers, in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and Michigan. Hard bargaining led to settlements in California, Massachusetts, and other states.
Many city school boards have larger budgets this year and were able to meet teachers' contract demands. At the same time, lower inflation and the fact that this is a presidential election year has tempered the aggressiveness of teachers' unions at negotiating tables. Bargaining has been generally less militant as a result.
Two large unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are campaigning hard for a Democratic victory in November.
Unpopular strikes (and school strikes are among the most unpopular) can hurt the unions' candidates in election. Moreover, such strikes can be divisive, particularly in white-collar unions with strong strains of professionalism, like the teachers' unions.
Unions have also found that splits over bargaining policies can lead to a decline in political action committees' support of labor-favored candidates. These factors have been a strong incentive at the bargaining tables for mutually acceptable contract compromises.