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Tucson Teachers Union Threats Illegal Strike—Goldwater Demands Answers

March 21, 2024

The largest teachers union in Tucson, Ariz., seems confused about whom schools exist to serve: teachers or students. Recently, the Tucson Education Association adopted a “strike-ready” resolution that leverages schoolchildren to demand more money—or else.

But Arizona law prohibits government employees from going on strike. So today, the Goldwater Institute sent a letter to the Tucson Unified School district demanding to know if the district supports an illegal strike and how the district plans to keep schools open so students can get the education they deserve.

The “strike-ready” resolution calls for the Tucson Education Association to increase its membership from a paltry 33% of Tucson public school teachers to 66% by next year. Why? So that the union can threaten to walk away from schools and students if their demands aren’t met. The resolution is essentially an open threat to the school district—and to all parents who send their kids to Tucson public schools: give us what we want, or we won’t teach.

This is illegal. That’s why Goldwater’s letter to the school district requests answers to the following questions:

  • Do you plan to aid striking employees in any way, including by closing schools until a strike ends?
  • Will you discipline teachers who breach employment contracts by refusing to fulfill their public duties, as state law requires?
  • What steps are you currently taking to ensure that district schools stay open and that students continue to have access to an education in the event of a strike?

All school employees sign contracts agreeing to work a certain number of days for a certain amount of money and for certain benefits. If they refuse to honor their obligations until they get more, they should be subject to discipline, just like anyone else broke the rules that way.. But the Tucson Education Association knows that taxpayers have no other option—and it’s trying to take advantage.

After all, government workers are different from private-sector employees, since businesses can go bankrupt, but governments can’t. So public employees can hold the state hostage by refusing to work as they’ve promised.

Indeed, these concerns were what led Franklin Roosevelt—not exactly a limited government conservative—to say:

The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer…. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives…. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.

Tucson teachers are entrusted with helping parents raise the next generation of Arizonans, and parents therefore expect teachers to set a good example. But what kind of example is set when teachers break their promises and refuse to fulfill their obligations until a new set of demands is met? Certainly not one we want our children to follow.

Finally, a teacher strike would also deprive Arizona children of their constitutional right to a public education. The Arizona Constitution requires that the state shall provide for “a general and uniform public school system.” This provision guarantees all students the right to an education and imposes on school districts the constitutional obligation to provide for that education as specified in the law.

Tucson parents deserve to know how the district will respond should the teachers union follow through on its immoral and illegal threat. Teachers must never deprive children of a constitutionally guaranteed benefit—especially not as a power play to win a more lucrative contract.

You can read our letter here.

Adam Shelton is a Staff Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.



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