Carrying the signs, "Pueblo schools are under attack. What do we do? Stand up. Fight back," and "Get up, get down, Pueblo is a union town!" the teachers in Pueblo, Colorado, went on a strike for the first time in 24 years on Monday to demand a 2 percent pay hike.
The strike comes at a time of a nationwide movement, where teachers in many states have been demonstrating for a better pay and an increase in education funding.
The union president Suzanne Ethredge told the Denver Channel that the teachers in the area who are largely pro-union would have started the strike even without the recent teachers' mobilization. "I think it did give people a little bit of a boost to make that decision, but I think it would have happened anyway," Ethredge said.
"I got into teaching because I understand its value to society," Michael Lonsberry, a teacher at East High School, told the Denver Post. "You can’t have a solid chance at a successful, productive and satisfying life without education."
"We’re not trying to be malicious," Goodnight Elementary art teacher Donna Gonzales, told the Denver Post. "We’re not trying to stop graduation. We’re not trying to mess with kids’ grades."
She said the strike is happening now because of all the steps the state requires before a strike. The Pueblo district has 30 schools serving roughly 16,000 students, according to its website. There were 992 teachers in the 2017-18 school year, according to the state education department. The district has an 18 percent teacher turnover rate.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, the teachers in the district were paid an average of US$47,617 during the 2017-18 school year. The average Coloradan teacher was paid US$52,728. The National Education Association’s 2018 report said the average pay nationwide in 2017 was nearly US$59,660.
The district has an 18 percent teacher turnover rate. The state is struggling with a teacher shortage, with the rural districts being the hardest.
Julie Cain had been working in the D60 district for 24 years. "I love Pueblo and I’ve lived here my whole life," she said. "I want to raise productive citizens."
"Our district has disrespected us for too long," Cain said. "We are having a really hard time getting and keeping good teachers."
Cain told the Denver Post, the community has been very supportive, with the firefighters dropping off food and water, parents bringing burritos and Gatorade. The school district also issued a statement ahead of the strike.
"We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this strike may cause your family," the statement said. "We are disappointed that we are in this situation; however, the safety of our students is our top priority. Our goal is to resume normal school operations as soon as we are able."