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Nashville Teachers Are Calling Out Sick to Protest Unfair Pay

There’s a huge gap between what they want and what the mayor’s offering.

by Rex Santus
May 6 2019, 5:42pm

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Almost 1,000 teachers in the Nashville area staged another apparent sickout Monday to protest the mayor’s budget proposal for salaries.

There’s a huge gap between what they want and what the mayor’s offering.

Exactly 999 teachers at Metro Nashville Public Schools, Tennessee’s second-largest school district with more than 80,000 students, called out of work Monday morning citing either personal illness, family illness, professional leave, personal leave, or bereavement. The sickout followed a similar action Friday, when about 1,400 teachers called out.

Teachers are upset because the school board asked Mayor David Briley, a Democrat, for $76 million so that teachers and school staff could get a 10 percent raise, or a nearly $5,000 raise for the average teacher, among other district improvements. The mayor only offered a fraction of that: $28 million.

The organizers, operating under a Twitter account called “Teachers Are Sick,” said that teachers would return to the classroom Tuesday. No schools were closed as a result of the sickout, but schools experienced inconveniences such as field-trip cancellations, according to the district. Local news reporters said that some students were walking out of school because of low teacher attendance.

“We will continue to fight for fully funded public education in Nashville, which has been our primary cause,” the account tweeted. “We will continue to fight for quality schools and teachers for our community.”

The movement in Nashville is part of a larger teacher “Red for Ed” movement, which advocates for better funding and resources for public schools across the United States. Teacher strikes are illegal in most states, so teachers often use alternative work actions such as sickouts to protest. (Teacher strikes are outlawed in Tennessee.)

In particular, public school teacher strikes are often a symbolic rebuke of charter schools, which are publicly funded schools that operate with little government oversight. Teacher unions say this amounts to a privatization of public education, which forces schools to compete with charters for resources and funding.

In the last several years, teachers have almost single-handedly breathed life back into the stagnating American labor movement. Despite record-low union membership rates across the U.S., teachers caused an explosion in labor strikes in 2018. Propelled by low pay and dwindling resources for students, teachers in nearly a dozen states have walked out of their classrooms. Last year, they caused the first uptick in major work stoppages in the U.S. in more than three decades.

The strikes are expected to continue as teacher unions throughout the U.S. have secured big wins — including raises, better benefits, and smaller class sizes — for their members by going on strike.

Cover: People protest against school vouchers Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. Roughly 50 teachers, parents and other education advocates participated in a demonstration at Tennessee's Capitol, where they voiced concerns about Gov. Bill Lee's support of education savings accounts. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)