Strikes vs. Walkouts

As SY 2018-19 begins, there is much uncertainty regarding future walkouts. Educators from the other 44 states could follow suit and protest, or teachers from the affected states could walkout again.

The walkouts had a major impact on teachers, families, students and their communities. They were multi-layered events. An unexpected—and often unreported—layer of the protests was how the walkouts affected school nutrition departments. To learn more about how the protests affected these employees and the offering of school meals, read the It’s Your Business article in the September 2018 edition of SN, titled “Walking Out on School Nutrition?” Below, Senior Editor Beth Roessner delves further into the differences between a strike and a walkout, as well as several more details to be aware of.

Strike vs. Walkout—What’s the difference?

There have been countless stories over the years of workers striking against their employers. Most recently, we saw the news of teachers hosting walkouts across several states to protest stagnate wages, out-of-date textbooks and poor working conditions in SY 2017-18. But, what’s the difference between a strike and a walkout? While both involve workers protesting for causes like higher pay, better working conditions and other issues, each are nuanced and separate actions.

Strike vs. Walkout

Strike—When employees feel a strike is necessary, a vote is often required to see if they are willing to go up against management. Strikes are most common in unionized workplaces. As strikes are a protest against management directly, strikes often focus on specific goals. As strikes do not have an end date, strikes are often longer in duration than walkouts. A big caveat to strikes is that the workers are no longer paid until they return to full employment.

Walkout— In the case of the teacher walkouts, the teachers went against the government and not their direct manager or employer. While strikes have no end date, walkouts can be both planned in advance or happen spontaneously. When walkouts happen, there is a sudden stoppage of work as people leave their buildings in the form of protest. Walkouts can last for a few minutes, a few hours or for a few days.

The Role of Unions

But aren’t many teachers unionized? West Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas and Kentucky were the states directly affected by the teacher walkouts. Many of the teachers in these states are not unionized. According to reports, the educators who do belong to these organizations felt conflicted at how unions handled the walkouts. But union representatives did act like spokespersons and a direct line to legislators.

In West Virginia, three unions were able to cut a deal with the state’s government to increase wages and set an end date for the protest. They also bargained for a freeze on health insurance premiums. When the agreements were announced, however, teachers were outraged. They were not notified of the terms of the agreement prior to the announcement and felt “sold out.” Protests continued. This is just one example of how unions intervened during this precarious time. 

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