Putting Education Reform To The Test

Why Florida Teachers Cannot Strike the Way Chicago Teachers Can

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Debra Wilhelm, Karen Aronowitz and John Tarka with the teacher unions in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties say they're wearing red to support Chicago teachers on strike.

Teachers across the state are showing their support for Chicago teachers on strike — by wearing red.

Florida teachers are not allowed to go on strike because of collective bargaining and because Florida is a right-to-work state.

Teachers get to negotiate their contracts and working conditions, and in turn they cannot strike — it’s against the Florida Constitution.

If they do, union leaders say teachers can be fired on the spot. And in the past, union leaders who organized any strikes or walk-outs have been fined and jailed.

The strike that started collective bargaining in Florida took place in 1968 — when teachers were asking for better school conditions and a minimum salary of $5,000 a year.

Florida’s 1968 strike is considered the first statewide teacher strike in the country.

Now, teachers and educators throughout the state are wearing red to support Chicago teachers. 

The presidents of the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach teachers unions coordinated their red outfits before they met in Miami Wednesday.

Karen Aronowitz is president of the United Teachers of Dade. She says Chicago teachers are standing up for themselves, and their students.

She says that includes fighting for better school building conditions.

“Schools without air conditioning, schools that never received the proper materials,” Aronowitz said.

“The general public sometimes just sees this as a money fight and it is not just a money fight. That is why we are wearing red. In solidarity.”

The Last Teacher Strike in Florida 

In 1967, the Democratic-controlled Florida legislature approved a higher sales tax to increase public school funding. But the Republican Governor at the time, Claude R. Kirk, Jr., vetoed it.

Teachers throughout the state walked out.

Courts ordered them back to their classroom, but hundreds stayed out for either a couple of days, or a couple of weeks.

In January 1968, the legislature held a special session and voted to raise taxes for school buildings and to increase teacher pay. But many teachers at the time didn’t think the funding increase was enough.

In February, the Florida Education Association (which was not a teachers union, but an association) announced it would support Florida teachers if they went on strike.

At the height of the 1986 teacher strike, 25,712 teachers — about 40 percent of educators in the state — walked out.

Public support was low and the strike lasted just a couple of days in some districts and up to three months in others.

But the strike paved the way for collective bargaining and teachers unions.



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