After a historic strike and fight against inhumane school conditions, Columbus teachers scored a victory for themselves and their students against the Columbus City Schools (CCS) Board of Education. On August 28, educators voted 71% to 29% to approve a new three-year contract with CCS. In their new contract, teachers gained new provisions that had never been won before including a pay raise, a contractual promise to fix or install HVAC systems in schools, reduction in class sizes, and paid parental leave.
Columbus educators won their best contract yet through the power of their collective action, but it came after withstanding a long struggle. On August 21, Columbus educators represented by the Columbus Education Association (CEA) voted to reject the final contract offer from the CCS Board of Education. Instead, the 4,500-member strong union – made up of teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, and psychologists – overwhelmingly voted by 94% to strike. The strike vote came in the wake of back and forth deliberations and negotiations, where the Board was still unwilling to seriously tackle the urgent problems faced by students and teachers.
For too long, students and teachers have been facing dangerous conditions inside Columbus City Schools. For the first time since 1975, Columbus teachers went on strike for the schools that children deserve in Columbus.
The CEA had demanded smaller class sizes, functional heating and air conditioning, adequate planning time for teachers, adequate pay, and an urgent need for the improvement of classrooms so that children could learn in a safe and healthy environment. These basic and necessary conditions were not reflected in any of the CCS Board’s offers. In particular, offers from the Board of Education provided no contractual, legally binding obligation to install HVAC filtration systems in every classroom – a basic necessity with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the rapid resurgence of Covid cases. From major water damage to black mold, from rats and roaches to classroom temperatures reaching 90+ degrees, students in Columbus have been neglected by the state and city for far too long.
Teachers not only stood up for themselves – they stood up for their students. Moira Casados Cassidy, a teacher and union activist in Denver, Colorado, said that “the issues at the heart of this strike are not unique to Columbus. Across the country, public educators have been driven to the edge by decades of underfunding compounded by the stresses of the pandemic. Low wages, large class sizes and poor working conditions like a lack of AC are the norm throughout the US. But we learned in the strike wave that began in West Virginia in 2018 that when teachers win in one place, it doesn’t just stay there. Each strike victory gives the rest of us courage to stand up and fight for the schools our students, coworkers, and communities deserve.”
Concentrating their pickets on 20 school locations in the city, the educator’s strike was met with massive public support. Students and parents joined the picket lines, voicing their support and the need to change the conditions of the classroom. Community organizations sponsored events of solidarity, and small businesses ran fundraisers to support the strike fund. Lukas Killian, a Columbus organizer and union activist with the Ohio State University Nurses Organization said that local support for the strike “is encouraging because it shows that our communities and working people broadly speaking support workers in their struggles, and gives the potential for deeper education and radicalization of working people by reaching them during these labor struggles.”
By the first day of school for Columbus, the strike was already making an impact. Students supported the strike by not crossing the “virtual picket line,” refusing to log on in support of the teacher’s strike. However, many raised concerns of the school’s conduct in counting student’s attendance. Infinite Campus, the district’s student information platform, automatically marks students present unless otherwise noted by the teachers. Many parents reported that, despite their child choosing not to cross the picket line, they were still marked present for the first day of school.
It wouldn’t be the first time CCS had falsified their attendance records, as the Columbus Dispatch reported in 2012 that the district had wiped 2.8 million absences off the record over a period of five and a half years. Despite a potential coverup by the district, it was apparent on the street and picket line itself that the students were standing side by side with their teachers.
After the first day of school was thrown into chaos by the Board’s inability to create a learning environment without their teachers, the federal mediator between the CEA and the CCS Board called both sides back to the table. By 2:30 a.m. on August 25, an agreement was reached for a new contract. This contract would provide:
- A 4% raise per year of the agreement
- A contractual guarantee that all student areas in school would be climate controlled in full no later than the start of the 2025-2026 school year including the installation of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning in buildings
- A reduction in class size in all grades (by two students per year of the contract)
- The first ever limit on the number of building assignments for elementary art, music, and P.E. teachers
- A first-ever limit on the number of CEA positions that could be outsourced to out-of-town corporations
- A paid parental leave program for teachers.
The teacher’s strike brought victory. Their struggle demonstrated that the rights of workers, while under constant attack, can be protected and ensured through collective action.