(Not) All You Need to Know About Strikes in North Carolina (But At Least A Good Start)
Have you seen calls for strike on social media or heard coworkers asking when we will follow Chicago’s lead? We are all feeling incredibly inspired by the incredible organizing work that CTU members did between their strikes. That work has led to a powerful base of members and community supporters who trust each other to stand strong until they win real improvements for their schools. That work isn’t magic, and it’s not easy. But it also isn’t impossible.
Here are some answers to the questions we are hearing the most:
Are we getting a raise?
We won’t know for sure until either the General Assembly and Governor sign a budget or a bill addressing salaries for public school employees, but we are hearing that a bill will likely be passed before they adjourn on October 31st.
Is it true that we don’t get retroactive pay if they wait until January to increase our salaries? Is this true for both raises and step increases?
No. Whenever a budget or a bill addressing salaries is passed, you will be paid retroactively back to July 1, 2019.
What is the strike law in NC?
Article 12 of Chapter 95 of the NC General Statutes addresses this:
“§ 95-98. Contracts between units of government and labor unions, trade unions or labor organizations concerning public employees declared to be illegal.…§ 95-98.1. Strikes by public employees prohibited. Strikes by public employees are hereby declared illegal and against the public policy of this State….§ 95-98.2. Strike defined. The word "strike" as used herein shall mean a cessation or deliberate slowing down of work by a combination of persons as a means of enforcing compliance with a demand upon the employer….”
What are the consequences of violating it?
Article 12 of Chapter 95 of the NC General Statutes also addresses this:
“§ 95-99. Penalty for violation of Article. Any violation of the provisions of this Article is hereby declared to be a Class 1 misdemeanor. (1959, c. 742; 1993, c. 539, s. 667; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14(c).)”
In speaking with an NCAE lead attorney, it appears that the consequences of violating the above law is incredibly subjective. The Assistant District Attorney decides whether or not a charge against a person proceeds to court and, if found guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, consequences range from various amounts of community service, probation, or the maximum penalty of 120 days in jail and/or discretionary fines, all dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to the length of time a strike lasts, the political climate, and the public’s reaction to the action. Non-certified staff are at-will employees, and certified staff can have their teaching license revoked if the school board of the district for which they work decide to report them to the State Board of Education (again, very subjective). You can find more information in Chapter 115C of the NC General Statutes, the NC Code of Ethics, and the State Board of Education’s 9 reasons to revoke a teaching license.
I think people (at my work site, in my district, across NC) are ready and willing to strike. What do we do to make this happen?
How can we get a clear understanding if this is true for most of your coworkers or if it is a reflection of the people you are in closest proximity to?
Here are some questions to help you develop an accurate, unbiased assessment of your worksite to identify what people are ready and willing to do:
- Does your school do a #RedForEd picture each week? This is baseline grassroots organizing. You can't take collective action until you prove you can ACTUALLY move people on the ground, collectively. So, getting people to wear a color, physically gather together, and publicly show their face doing so is a critical step, It claims, "Look at us, we are paying attention, we have established communication networks, and we are not hiding about it; we prioritized this in our day and we can move as a unit on commend." It seems little but it is BIG.
- How many staff participate in the Red4Ed picture? What percentage of your coworkers is that (counting all employees at your work site)? Are all school roles represented in the picture (bus drivers, instructional assistants, cafeteria workers, clerical, etc. )?
- Does your building have an NCAE building leader? Do they have a team of people working with them? Are they or someone else from your school regularly attending monthly Wake NCAE meetings?
- How many staff attended May 16th, 2018? How many staff attended May 1st, 2019? What percentage of your coworkers is that? Were all school roles represented?
- How many staff members know the elected officials, local and state, that represent the geographical area in which your school is located (School Board, County Commissioner, State Representative, State Senator)?
- How many staff members have called, emailed, or visited those elected officials to share concerns with them?
- How many staff are current, dues-paying members of NCAE? What percentage of your coworkers is that? Are all school roles represented in your building’s membership?
- How many staff members are willing to go to another work site either before or after school to help them get organized and engaged in the work?
- How many staff members recognize the May 16th and May 1st rallies as one-day strikes?
- How many days are 50% of your coworkers willing to go without pay? How many days would 75% of them go without pay? 90%?
- How many staff members have saved at least a week’s worth of salary so that they could be unpaid for a week? How many have saved for 2 weeks? Are all school roles, and income levels, represented in this number?
- Does your work site have a way to solve problems that supports teams bringing forth a problem, exploring it, finding the root cause, making a decision together about how to act, and does so in a way that values both students and educators?
- Does your work site have a culture that is supporting and nurturing towards all educators or one that is competitive?
In addition to those questions, we want to remind you of a few things:
- Do not assume someone else is doing the work at your work site.
- If you have an NCAE building leader, ask them how you can help to organize your building and engage coworkers in local NCAE work.
- If there is not an NCAE building leader, do not assume you don’t have time or that you won’t be good enough. There are a variety of ways you can be involved and lead in your building. No matter the extent to which you are able to participate, someone doing something in your building is better than no one doing anything at all.
- If you are a building leader, and someone can do more than you, allow them to, be honest about where and what you need help with, and stay committed to doing what you can and showing up where you can.
- May 16th and May 1st each took at least a full month of really concentrated work and mobilization efforts to execute. Many of the places where things moved quickly, did so because there were buildings that did the slower, consistent work of steadily organizing and engaging their work sites throughout the year(s) leading up to both of the May rallies.
- The conditions in which we are struggling are very similar to the conditions other public school employees face across the country every day. In states where educators have both a legal right to collectively bargain and a legal right to strike, they are facing these same challenges. The strength of our union is not determined by the legal rights granted to us, and it is certainly not determined by the unconstitutionally gerry-mandered General Assembly currently negotiating what they will “give” public schools, our students, or us. The strength of our union is our people, our labor, and the extent to which we are willing to organize around and leverage both of those things.
To be clear, no one needs permission to take meaningful action - not from our local leadership, and not from the state’s. To take collective action, we have to really step up and into our leadership to remind our coworkers that we have a lot of tools in our toolbox. We need to be effective at using all of them.
We can do seemingly impossible things together, but it’s not magic.
It’s organizing, and it works.
Much thanks to Kristin Beller and the Wake NCAE Organizing Team for this content - teamwork makes the dream work!
You can find more information on the NC General Statutes on labor here: Chapter 95 - Department of Labor and Labor Regulations.