What is a strike in the private sector?
In the private sector a strike by a union is for the purpose of
pressuring management to give in to union demands. Pressure
comes in the way of lost business revenues and lost profits to
shareholders, lost business to competitors, public disapproval
and lost confidence of consumers. A strike can threaten
long-term business viability.
A strike is a form of punishment inflicted upon a company for its
intransigence. It is meant to inflict harm and distress.
Short-term union goals (wages, benefits, work rules) may inflict
long-term hardship on a company, so unions must be careful how
much punishment they inflict.
In this competition between labor and management there does not appear to
be an obvious ethical high ground. Though there may be private
sector strikes where public safety is in jeopardy (strikes
during times of war), generally that is not the case. Both
sides are competing for limited profits and hope to increase
Public sector strikes.
Strikes by public service workers do raise obvious ethical concerns.
Transportation workers have a lot of leverage when they strike.
The punishment falls on the users of public transportation whose
livelihood may be threatened. This is especially the case for
poor and low-income workers who rely on public transportation.
Such consumers will demand that a contract be quickly settled.
Likewise, when public hospital nurses strike it is the sick and their
families who are threatened. When police officers and other
public security officers strike, it is the safety of the general
public that is threatened. In such circumstances the most
vulnerable in society are threatened.
Public school teacher strikes.
Strikes by public school teachers are also meant to inflict pain in order
to move management to accept union terms. This is the same
industrial-union model used in the private sector.
Who is threatened when public school teachers strike? Who is supposed to
feel the pain and pressure of a strike? It is children and
their parents. The union hopes that parents and community will
pressure the school board to come to terms. Striking teachers
hope that the school board feels political pain, but they use
children, parents and grandparents to accomplish this goal.
How is punishment inflicted on children and parents? Children will
likely enjoy the days off (until they make up the days in late
June). Parents will be hurt because many will have to scramble
to provide child care because of work schedules. Single parents
may feel the pain most acutely because they may have to take off
work to care for children. Some children may simply be left at
home without adequate supervision. Disrupted work and school
schedules will be felt most intensely by low-income parents who
have few child-care options. Seniors hoping to graduate in
early June may have post-high school plans disrupted and parents
and care-givers may have to adjust summer schedules.
What ethical principle is involved in a public school teacher strike? As
a Christian I am commanded to love my neighbor and do no harm to
my neighbor. This applies especially to the most vulnerable of
my neighbors. If my analysis of a strike is correct then I
cannot strike without violating my conscience.
Though I approach this as a Christian, people of other religious faiths
and those of no religious faith can embrace this ethical
principle of doing no harm to a neighbor. This is the most
basic ethical principle in our constitutional republic. It is
the glue that holds our society together. When teachers violate
this most basic ethical principle what are they teaching
A teachers’ union that chooses to strike may gain short-term advantage,
but it damages its ethical image in the long term. The teachers
I have worked with over the years have shown their care for
children in hundreds of ways. They are generally highly ethical
and caring people. Allowing themselves to be herded along by
the industrial-union model of the teacher union only harms
themselves by undermining their ethical credibility.
It would be better for teachers to suffer some material loss than for
them to teach children that ethical principle can be jettisoned
for personal gain. Watching your kindergarten teacher on a
picket line screaming for more money may leave a more lasting
impression on children than all her kindnesses in the
Myron Lieberman, "The Teacher
Unions: How the NEA and AFT Sabotage
Reform and Hold Students, Parents, Teachers, and Taxpayers
Bureaucracy." The Free Press, 1997.
Lieberman is a life-time members of the NEA. He was a chief
for union contracts in various states. He trained teachers as