Uber Driver Doesn’t Understand the Nuances of the Newton Teachers’ Strike


I finished an interview on the Newton teachers’ strike and then hailed an Uber.

“Clearly,” I stated on the phone, “nine days of missed school is highly disruptive for students and families. And I understand that thousands of Newton students are still recovering from the prolonged school closures during the pandemic. But we must acknowledge that the teachers wouldn’t be striking if they had any other option.”

I hung up. The Uber driver glanced up and asked, “Is that about the Massachusetts teachers’ strike they were discussing on the radio? What’s going on with that?”

Photo of Rick Hess with text "Old School with Rick Hess"

“There are some major issues,” I explained. “The union is demanding a 4 percent annual salary increase for teachers over the next four years, whereas the schools are only offering 3 percent a year.”

“That’s only 1 percent,” she observed. Looking at me through the mirror, she asked, “And the schools are closed because of that?”

“Well, there’s more,” I continued. “The union also wants a 5 percent annual raise for classroom aides, while the district is only proposing 3.5 percent. Additionally, the union wants a social worker to be assigned to every school, but the district refuses to agree.”

“That’s the whole deal?” she inquired. “They’ve prevented kids from going to school for two weeks just to argue about 1 percent and whether or not to add another do-gooder to the principal’s office? You must be kidding me.”

“You don’t understand how important that 1 percent can be for people,” I argued.

“Actually,” she countered, “I do. That’s precisely why I finish my day job and then drive for three hours every day. I do it so I can pay rent and cover my car payments. So, trust me, I understand. I know exactly how difficult it is to earn $55K. Still, I wouldn’t leave a child stranded on the side of the road just to squeeze an extra 1 percent out of Uber.”

I sighed. “I don’t think you quite grasp the situation,” I said.

“What have the teachers received so far?” she asked.

“Let’s see. The schools have agreed to provide teachers with 60 days of parental leave, although only 40 of those days are fully paid,” I replied.

“Just how much do these teachers actually make?” she questioned.

“Well, in Newton, the average teacher earns $93,000,” I answered.

“Ninety-three grand,” she remarked. “That’s pretty good. And I’ve heard that teachers receive excellent benefits like retirement and healthcare, all paid for with taxes, right?”

“I think you’re missing the real issue here,” I remarked. “The point is that there are other school districts in the state that pay teachers more. Teachers in Newton believe they deserve higher pay as well.”

“Now I really don’t understand,” she said. “On the radio, I heard that their schools remained closed for a long time during the pandemic, but the teachers still received their full salaries throughout the entire period. Is that fair? It seems to me that if they promised to do a job, they ought to actually do it.”

“I don’t think you realize—”

“And I heard somewhere that it isn’t even legal for these teachers to go on strike. Is that true? I mean, are they breaking the law?”

“I suppose that’s technically accurate,” I admitted. “The state law does state, ‘No public employee or employee organization shall engage in a strike.’”

“Well, there you go,” she concluded. “The police should tell them to do their job or throw them in jail.”

“Look, I think you’re missing the point,” I explained. “The union is simply trying to ensure that teachers are fairly compensated and that schools have the necessary staff. These are good things.”

“Aren’t those teacher unions the ones who argue against parents having choices outside of the school district?” she asked. “On the radio, I heard all the angry things they said about charter schools and choice. From my perspective, it would be like me working to ensure that you couldn’t take a taxi, a bus, the subway, Lyft, or anything else, and then refusing to drive. How does that make any sense?”

“No, don’t you see? Their point is that education is a public responsibility,” I reasoned. “Their objective is not to prevent people from going elsewhere, but rather to protect that sacred responsibility.”

“Well,” she responded, “if they want my trust, they should show up and fulfill the job they promised to do. I don’t see how you can claim to do something incredibly important that everyone depends on—and then simply stop showing up for work for two weeks. That’s ridiculous, especially when children are caught in the middle.”

I leaned back and seethed. It’s frustrating when some people fail to understand the nuanced points.”

Frederick Hess is an executive editor of Education Next and the author of the blog “Old School with Rick Hess.”

The post My Uber Driver Doesn’t Get the Finer Points of the Newton Teachers’ Strike appeared first on Education Next.


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