The West Virginia teachers’ strike is entering its eighth day with no end in sight, after this weekend saw talks between the two chambers of the West Virginia legislature over pay raises for the teachers collapse. Now, teachers in Oklahoma—which, like West Virginia, has a rich labor history but has become known for its conservative leanings in recent years—are planning on striking too.
Last week, Tulsa TV station KTUL reported that a public school teacher in the city of Stillwater had created a Facebook group with the intention of discussing a statewide strike. By Friday, the group had gained over 20,000 members; by Monday, it had reached nearly 40,000. Also on Friday, teachers from around the state met in person to discuss a strike.
Why are the teachers considering a strike? According to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers from 2016, Oklahoma had the lowest average teacher salary in the country at $42,460; in neighboring Texas, the average salary was over $55,000. Teachers haven’t seen a raise in 10 years.
In February, the state House of Representatives voted 63–35 on a package that would have raised taxes to fund raises for teachers. In Oklahoma, however, tax hikes need 75 percent of all votes to pass, so the bill failed.
Last year, Oklahoma’s teacher of the year moved to Texas to teach. “We are to the point where we have no other option,” Heather Reed, a teacher in Oklahoma City who organized Friday’s meeting, told KTUL.
A comment in the Facebook group illustrated the frustration many Oklahoma teachers are feeling with legislators these days:
Oklahoma state law technically forbids public school teachers from even threatening a strike, which seems contradictory considering Oklahoma’s state motto means “labor conquers all things.” In April 1990, however, a four-day walkout resulted in an education reform bill, which included long-sought raises.
KTUL reported on Sunday night that teachers are expected to set and announce a date for the strike next week. Reed told the Tulsa World that the date currently under consideration is April 2, when the state’s standardized testing begins, because that’s “when it might hurt the most.”