North Carolina group gauges teachers' support for strike

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina Association of Educators wants to know how long teachers would stay out of the classroom to get the pay raises and benefits that they want.

The NCAE is surveying teachers to find out how long they would participate in a work stoppage if the legislature doesn’t meet its demands, which include 5% pay raises, $15 minimum wages, Medicaid expansion and reinstating previous retiree health benefits.

The survey is a first step in determining teachers’ support for a strike, NCAE President Mark Jewell said in an email Friday to The Associated Press.

“NCAE is always looking for appropriate ways for educators to raise our collective voices, and we will not apologize for saying, and doing, what is necessary to make our voices heard,” Jewell wrote.

The NCAE Organize 2020 Racial and Social Justice Caucus is circulating the survey internally online, and some teachers are distributing paper copies, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported. The newspaper was the first to report on the survey, which comes as the state faces its 200th day without a new budget.

“Our lawmakers’ failure to do their duty is indefensible, and we cannot wait any longer,” the survey introduction begins. “What we need to know in order to plan our escalations is: What are you willing to risk to help us win the funding that we all deserve?”

Teachers can select their willingness to miss between 0 and 10 days of work in order to show their support for the NCAE's goals.

A work stoppage of more than one day would be a new job action for the NCAE, the leading lobbying group for teachers in North Carolina. In 2018 and 2019, North Carolina teachers took one day from school to protest in Raleigh.

“Educators are understandably frustrated by the decade of disrespect and marginalization they have received from lawmakers, and we will consider all that is necessary to make a positive impact for public schools and all of those educators who serve in them,” Jewell wrote.

In Buncombe County, most teachers also indicated they would favor taking off multiple days to achieve their demands, said LeAnna Delph, a 6th-grade teacher at Eblen Intermediate and a regional director for the NCAE.

"We're calling it a temperature check," Delph said.

North Carolina law states that strikes by public employees are illegal. But they’re also prohibited in states such as Kentucky and Oklahoma, where teachers left their jobs to pressure politicians.

Jeffrey Hirsch, professor at the University of North Carolina law school, told the Asheville newspaper that in most cases, it's not “politically feasible to go after a bunch of teachers.”

Bob Luebke, director of policy for the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh, said even the single-day teacher walkouts could be considered strikes.

Teachers “are entrusted with educating our children,” Luebke said. “If they walk off the job like they did last year, everyone knows the upheaval that creates."