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Teacher Strikes & the Law

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Posted in:  
March 1, 2018

Unlike some legal matters that may have grey areas, the law is quite clear when it comes to strikes. 70 O.S. Section 509.8 reads as follows: 

The procedure provided for herein for resolving impasses shall be the exclusive recourse of the organization. It shall be illegal for the organization to strike or threaten to strike as a means of resolving differences with the board of education. Any member of an organization engaging in a strike shall be denied the full amount of his wages during the period of such violation. If the organization or its members engage in a strike, then the organization shall cease to be recognized as representative of the unit and the school district shall be relieved of the duty to negotiate with such organization or its representatives.

Image courtesy of Tulsa World

Although this law was in place in 1979, a group of teachers did indeed strike—for the first time in Oklahoma.The Oklahoma City Federation of Teachers (OCFT) was the bargaining representative for the group battling the board of education over wages, overtime and planning periods. For a period of 12 working days, over half the Oklahoma City Public School District’s teachers were off the job. Schools were kept open using substitutes and non-striking teachers.

It happened again in 1990, when over half of Oklahoma’s teachers rallied at the State Capitol. That strike resulted in closure of nearly 25% of schools statewide. The outcome of the 4-day strike was sweeping reform with the passage of House Bill 1017.

Currently, educators are discussing the potential for an upcoming strike similar to the one in 1990. Despite near-universal agreement that teachers should have a pay raise, there will likely be differing opinions on whether a massive strike is the best way to achieve it. Before taking a position on the matter, administrators and school boards will not only want to be aware of the law but also of potential ramifications of having some or even all their teachers absent from the classroom for any given period of time.

If I can answer any of your questions on the matter, please let me know.

About the Author

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Terri Thomas

Director of Legal Services

Terri Thomas serves as Director of Legal Services for OPSRC.  Ms. Thomas is an attorney practicing exclusively in the area of Oklahoma school law, with a primary focus on rural and smaller school districts. Prior to OPSRC, she served as legal counsel for the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools (OROS) from 1999 to 2015 and represents many school districts throughout all parts of the state.

It’s no accident that Terri wound up practicing school law.  She grew up in the school business. Terri’s father, the late Howard Thomas, was a school superintendent for 25 years in several Oklahoma school districts, including Pauls Valley—Terri’s hometown—and Ardmore. After graduating from Pauls Valley High School, Terri received her bachelor’s degree in Finance from Southern Methodist University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

She and her husband, Norman Thompson, and their 8-year old daughter, Mary, reside in Oklahoma City.

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