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Columbus teachers strike

Columbus teachers reach comprehensive conceptual agreement
By staff |
August 28, 2022
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Striking Columbus, OH educators.
Striking Columbus, OH educators. (CEA)

Bargaining team given ‘final offer,’ board walks out

Columbus, OH - Rallying around a message of “Don’t walk away from our students,” the Columbus Education Association, the union representing nearly 4500 teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, psychologists and other education professionals in Columbus City Schools, met with the board on July 28. The educators pushed for their refined proposal covering: “smaller class sizes, full-time art, music, and P.E. teachers at the elementary level, functional heating and air-conditioning in classrooms, necessary planning time at the elementary level, a cap on the number of class periods during the school day, and other working conditions that recruit and retain the best educators for our students.”

Negotiations scheduled for July 28 lasted “exactly one minute”, with the board stating they were “done with bargaining” and handed the Columbus Education Association (CEA) bargaining team their “final offer” before immediately walking out of the building.

Members vote to issue strike notice

On August 5 members gathered for a mass meeting with their collective bargaining team, which ended in an impressive 94% vote to issue Columbus City Schools a ten-day strike notice set to expire midnight, August 21. CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes stated, “The vote tonight is a vote of confidence in our bargaining team and our fight for the safe, properly maintained, fully resourced schools,” adding, “CEA has consistently maintained that we are fighting not just for CEA members, but for our students and community. That is why CEA will continue that fight until a fair agreement is reached for the schools Columbus students deserve.”

By request of the federal mediator, CEA met again with the board again to provide a counterproposal, where the board failed to either respond or provide a counter-proposal. CEA filed its Notice of Intent to Strike and Picket with the State Employment Relations Board on August 11, with the strike to commence at 12:01 a.m., August 22.

“Whose schools? Our schools!”

Starting at 7 a.m., August 22, union teachers formed picket lines outside 20 school buildings spanning across the city. Educators carrying signs reading “On strike” lined the sidewalks chanting “No more rats, no more bugs, classrooms should be full of hugs!” and “Whose schools? Our schools!”

That evening, after the first day of demonstrations, a massive crowd of over 1000 teachers and community members picketed along South High Street outside the Southland Center where an emergency executive school board meeting was taking place. Spirits were high as an expansive display of strikers wearing red stretched along one of Columbus’s busiest streets, marching and chanting.

Despite the severe shortage of teachers, the school board directed students to a virtual learning environment for the start of the school year. The union has encouraged parents and students not to cross the picket line - physically or “virtually” - and educated children about the utility of labor strikes and the key issues being fought for by Columbus educators.

Reports of harassment, marchers shot at with BB gun

During the first two days of the strike, picketers reported multiple cases of harassment, including, marchers being shot at with a BB gun from a moving vehicle; having shoes, “muddy water,” and a “car lock cylinder” thrown at them; a pickup truck backing up to the picket line in order to “roll coal” in their faces; and physical shoving and intimidation.

Regina Fuentes made the following statement to the TV station NBC4 WCMH, “Our members will not be intimidated, and the CEA is doing everything it can to ensure the safety of members.”

Comprehensive conceptual agreement reached

On August 25, the CEA sent out a “CCS Strike Update” email stating, “At 2:38 a.m. this morning, after almost 14 continuous hours of negotiations, the bargaining teams from the Columbus Education Association (CEA) and the Columbus City Schools Board reached a comprehensive conceptual agreement on a new labor contract covering nearly 4,500 teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, psychologists, and other education professionals employed by Columbus City Schools, tentatively ending the district’s first teacher strike since 1975.” The email went on, “This deal would not have been possible without the unwavering support of parents, community members, organized labor, and local businesses in Columbus. It was a city-wide effort that allowed CEA to win the schools Columbus students deserve.”

CEA members will first review and vote on ratification of the comprehensive conceptual agreement. A mass membership meeting is being planned for this weekend, at which time the CEA core bargaining team will recommend ratification, potentially ending the three-day strike.

The board is scheduled to vote on the agreement after CEA’s ratification. If both parties approve the deal, classes will resume for students on Monday, August 29.

Columbus Education Association spokesperson Regina Fuentes states, “We recognize the sacrifices students, parents, and teachers alike have made during the last three days as we fought for the schools Columbus students deserve.” She continued, “Let the history books reflect that this strike was about students who deserved a commitment to modern schools with heating and air conditioning, smaller class sizes, and a well-rounded curriculum that includes art, music and P.E.”