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The Right To Strike With Examples

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2779 words Published: 4th May 2017

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Write a two page essay discussing YOUR opinion regarding the right to strike for public employees. Take a position for or against granting state and local employees the right to strike. If you oppose granting public employees the right to strike, discuss how the issues cited in Chapter 8, Section IV, support your point of view. If you favor granting at least some public employees the right to strike, discuss why the issues discussed in Section IV are not grounds for denying the right to strike. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to this question. Your response will be evaluated on how well you defend the position you take.

In our readings, the author poses the question “[I]s it equitable and realistic to deny public employees the right to strike while guaranteeing the same right to private workers in vital sectors of the American economy?” This question touches upon central underpinning of this argument which is one of ‘fairness’ (ie., should all employees participating in the collective bargaining process, private sector or public be treated the same?). The author’s question also raises a quandary. Without defining the term, the author addresses this question as it applies only to ‘vital sectors’ of the American economy. Presumably, because the author is addressing only ‘vital’ sectors of the American economy, there are sectors that the author would define as not being vital. I believe that based upon the analysis performed by the author I would agree that public employees should be allowed the right to strike. In analyzing the four (4) arguments used in the book: Sovereignty, Distortion of Political Process, Lack of Market Constraints, and Essential Services, the author I believe successfully refutes these common arguments that opponents of public employee right to strike typically use.

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In regards to the argument of Sovereignty, the book defines this term as being the supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable influence by which any independent state is governed; supreme political authority; absolute control of the constitution and frame of government and its administration. Those who claim that sovereignty is a valid reason to prevent public employees from striking believe, at its core, that sovereignty in a representative democracy is the notion that the people are represented by their elected officials. If these elected officials allow their decisions concerning their employees to be altered by bargaining in a collective sense with these same employees, then their conduct may amount to an improper and perhaps illegal delegation of the people’s power to the employees union. The author traces the roots of sovereignty to medieval times when the philosophy was that ‘the King can do no wrong”, which became part of our English common law. The author sets forth the premise that the sovereignty argument is no longer valid. To support this view, he asserts that the ‘sovereign’ power of the state has long been waived, delegated or in some other manner shared with various entities. Secondly, the author asserts that through time and the operation of the democratic process that strikes by public employees have frequently occurred without political, economic, or social collapse. Finally, the fact that sovereignty in and of itself is not a bar to government entering into collective bargaining arrangements or prohibit it from legally establishing the right of public employees to strike has essentially made the sovereignty argument moot. [1] 

The argument for sovereignty allows for a smooth transition into the second argument that those against the striking of public employees use; the distortion of the political process. The text describes that the perspective of early critics argued that public employee strikes threatened the survival of the “normal” political processes by giving public sector employees an unfair advantage of power and influence. Critics believe that this form of unbalanced power compromises the political process of democracy since it gives certain interest groups an unfair advantage. However this argument does not necessarily hold water because as mentioned in the text, who can really define what a “typical or normal” political process is? As mentioned in the sovereignty argument, this form of influence has and always be around as long as there is a democratic political process. The text also mentions that there is not enough historical evidence that supports the claim that unions in the public sector have led to a dysfunctional society. [2] 

The third argument that those against the public sector right to strikes use, is based largely upon the concept that in the public sector there is a labor market best characterized as a “monopoly” that is virtually immune to the nominal competition and consumer product demand factors that greatly influence labor costs in the private sector. In essence, these factors tend to control labor costs in the private sector because there consumers can vote with their wallets (i.e., purchase goods and services from alternative lower cost sources, obtain substitutes or do without). The fact that higher labor costs in the private sector must be offset traditionally with increased product prices or improved productivity simply do no seem to apply in the public sector. Critics argue that his lack of market constraints in the public sector can allow for unions to make whatever demands they want and can threaten to strike at will to achieve them. I believe however, the text makes a valid point that in reality there are some restraints that can occur in public sector strikes. For example, when employees are not working they are relinquishing their ability to be paid but at the same time, their employer is still receiving revenue via the American taxpayer. So in reality, the workers are often on the losing side if one were to consider the net financial outcome. The text also discusses notions that in many situations if a strike is imminent, there is a strong political influence that can be brought upon public sector unions to forego striking or come to an agreement to end one quickly should it occur. If there are no options left for governments, officials may contract out services which in reality, can create competition in the labor marketplace. [3] 

The fourth argument described in the text that opponents of allowing public sector employees right to strike use that impasses in the public sector can lead to an unacceptable threat to the health and safety of citizens when essential services are unavailable; i.e. police, firefighters, teachers, and sanitation workers. Critics believe that something like this occurring would be a worst case scenario for the public to endure if vital components of our infrastructure suddenly became assiduous. To refute these doomsday claims the text outlines that not all government services are “that essential”. For example the text tells us that teacher strikes have lasted for month and have disrupted the school year as well as the lives of students and parents but in reality there is little what evidence of a long-term blemish on the behalf of the students and parents. The text sets forth that most often that strikes by entities such as police, fire fighter, and sanitation workers are relatively localized and that the public suffers relatively little harm due to the fact that larger, more regional asserts exist to provide services during the pendency of a local strike. The author notes in this regard that state law enforcement have been able to aid non-striking police officers in maintaining law and order during local police work disruptions; that volunteer fire departments usually provide a larger area of people than striking local municipal firefighters, and in regards to sanitation workers striking people can always take the initiative and take their own trash to the dump. [4] The text leaves us with an ambiguous perspective by indicating that in reality there is not an easy way to determine what an “essential” public service is. What makes it difficult to determine what is essential or not can be based upon where a strike occurs and for how long. In order to better define what services are truly essential or not, some states have taken an approach to categorize work stoppages based upon their significance. Some examples of this categorization have been broken down into essential (fire and police protection), intermediate (sanitation, health care, transit, water, sewer), and non-essential (education, streets, parks, welfare). The emerging logic seems to be that strikes would be outright prohibited for essential public services, permitted for intermediate services unless they presented a threat to citizen’s health or safety, and permitted across the board for nonessential functions. The author notes that at least one jurisdiction has instituted such a plan, Alaska. [5] 

Find a news article (either in a newspaper or on a newspaper’s Web site) about a public employee strike (involving any type of public employee in any state) that has taken place within the past year (from the date you turn in the assignment). Write a one to two page summary and analysis of the strike. Included in this report should be the names of the union and the employer involved, the legal status of the strike (legal or illegal), the name of the state’s public employee law that covers the employees involved, the key issues in dispute, and your analysis of why the strike occurred (see Chapter 8, Section VII).

Despite the fact that the nation is facing tough economic times and will for the foreseeable future, and the seeming reality that union strikes of any kind regardless of whether they are public or private, have become less frequent, there will unfortunately always be a few instances where a labor dispute between employees and their employer will escalate into a work stoppage and possible strike. In late August 2009, a feud was brewing in Washington State between public school teachers and the Kent County Washington public school district. The dispute was between the teachers union of Kent Education Association (KEA) and the public school district of Kent, Washington. The 17-day strike was a result of the teachers union protesting that the school district should spend some of a $21 million budget appropriation it received from the State to alleviate overcrowded classrooms and create a smaller student-to-teacher ratio. A secondary demand of the teacher’s union was for the board to eliminate some of the scheduled numerous mandatory teacher meetings. The union argued that less teacher meetings could allow for more time the teachers could spend working with students. There was a great deal of debate that occurred regarding the legality of this strike. Critics of the union argued that the strike was illegal since public employees in Washington State are forbidden from going on strike. The KEA union however rebutted that argument by saying that there are no specific prohibitions of strikes by teachers in Washington State law (as opposed to police officers and firefighters) therefore the union considered the strike to be valid. The State Attorney General had issued an opinion of applicable State law nearly three (3) prior to the strike that public employees, including teachers, do not have the right to strike in Washington State. The opinion of the attorney general was cited from RCW 41.56.120, which specifically stated that, “Nothing contained in this chapter shall permit or grant public employees the right to strike or refuse to perform his or her official duties.” As a result of this legal definition a Superior Court Judge grated the school districts injunction finding the strike to be illegal and ordered the teachers to return to the classroom by September 8, 2009. However a day before this deadline nearly 74 percent of some 1,300 members of the teacher’s union voted to disregard the court’s order. As a result of this extended resistance, the school district provided to the Superior Court a list of teachers who had refused to return to work and the Judge issued fines ($200 a day, $1,500 for the union) to those teachers who did not report to work by September 8th, 2009. Although the strike did come to an end on September 15th, 2009, when teachers returned to the classroom after negotiating a new contract, many families were left inconvenienced and scurried to find child care. However many parents did support the teachers and rallied on their behalf, standing with them on the picket line.


Bartley, N. (2009, September 14). Education | Tentative deal reached to end Kent schools strike | Seattle Times Newspaper. The Seattle Times | Seattle Times Newspaper. Retrieved March 14, 2010, from http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/education/2009860723_kentstrike14m.html

Beckley, B. (2009, August 27). Kent teachers’ strike: Is it even legal? – Kent Reporter. PNWLocalNews – Western Washington News, Sports, Entertainment. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/south_king/ken/news/55520032.html

Discuss, in one to two pages, whether you believe the events of September 11, 2001, have had an impact on the way the public views the right to strike of public employees?

In my view the events of September 11, 2001, have not only reinforced but have tended a pronounced shift toward the outright prohibition of strikes by public employees whose functions have a direct effect and bearing on the health, safety and welfare of the citizenry. The first responders to the 911 tragedy, in all its locations, New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania were a plethora of police, firefighters, and emergency personnel, may of whom lost their lives, but all of whom risked their lives against untold hazards to save others they did not even know. The number of rescuers was in the thousands. In New York alone it was estimated that over 17,000 employees were in the Twin Towers at the time of the attack. Both of the Towers collapsed from internal building frame failure within approximately one-hour after attack impact. Within these short time-frames approximately 90% of these individuals were rescued successfully. The final tally of lives lost was 2,995. A total of 411 emergency workers who responded to the scene died as they attempted to rescue people and fight fires. The New York City Fire Department lost a total of 343 firefighters and paramedics. The New York Police Department and The Port Authority Police Department lost 60 officers. If these attacks had occurred when essential firefighters and police were on strike, the effects and aftermaths would have been more catastrophic that they already became. The concept of the author of our text that adequate critical and essential resources would have been available from other sources would simply have not been true for the events of 911. We as a people had been lulled into a state of complacency; thinking that the unthinkable could and would not occur. It is hard to imagine that the tragedy and loss of 911 would be pale in comparison to attacks that could have been or may come in the future such as germ warfare or a nuclear holocaust. An aftermath of the 911 tragedy was the establishment of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Today we all live under a heightened level of security threat. I know that I rest easier knowing that 24 hours a day that firefighters and police are on duty to respond when needed. To afford this protection I believe that more jurisdictions will act to limit or prohibit or limit strikes by such essential personnel as has New York under the so called Taylor Law which specifically forbids job actions by police officers.


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