A judge ordered 1,900 striking Tacoma, WA teachers back to work yesterday after a two-day walkout Reuters reported today. Teachers in Washington’s third largest district were striking over district attempts to reassign teachers based on evaluations, rather than seniority. Teachers are also opposing attempts to impose pay cuts and class size increases.
The school district has called the strike illegal. Apparently the judge agreed, ordering teachers back to work immediately and demanding that both sides appear in court on Friday to prove that they have complied with the order.
It is not yet clear whether the teachers will comply. Tacoma Educators Association President Andy Coons declared that the strike was officially over, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer. However, he also said he was not a dictator and that people were free to make their own choices, implying that teachers might choose to continue striking without his consent. Several teachers said they would continue to stay out.
Coons is carefully following the lead of other union leaders of the past. Ignoring the judge’s order would likely result in large fines for the union and possible jail time for its officials, including Coons. By declaring official compliance, Coons is attempting to insulate the union from legal repurcussions. However, a wildcat strike could continue and be highly effective, depending on how strong the solidarity and discipline of the teachers.
Teachers should not go back to work simply because a judge has told them to do so. The judge himself said that it is unclear whether it is illegal for public workers to strike in Washington, drawing into question the legitimacy of his ruling.
However, even if it was illegal, that should not stop the teachers. Unjust laws are meant to be disobeyed, while attacks on working conditions must be resisted, regardless of the law. Workers had to break the law in order for unions to win the right to legally exist in the first place.
Furthermore, returning to work now would give the advantage to the bosses and take away the momentum the teachers have built toward the strike. This momentum will be crucial in the coming weeks as a hearing is set for the end of the month to determine if there will be a permanent injunction against striking. The teachers will be in a much better position to resist this injunction and continue with job actions if they are already on strike than they will if they spend the next two weeks in the classroom feeling betrayed and bullied by the courts and bosses