My Uber Driver Doesn’t Get the Finer Points of the Newton Teachers’ Strike

How can I convince her how important this is?

A driver adjusting her rear view mirror

I was wrapping up an interview on the Newton teachers’ strike as I hopped in an Uber.

“Obviously,” I was saying on the phone, “nine days of missed school is really disruptive for kids and families. And I know thousands of Newton students are still recovering from the extended school closures during the pandemic. But we need to appreciate that the teachers wouldn’t be striking unless they had no choice.”

I hung up. The Uber driver looked up and said, “Sounds like that Massachusetts teachers’ strike they were talking about on the radio. What’s up with that?”

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“Some big issues,” I explained. “The union wants teacher raises of about 4 percent each year for the next four years; the schools are only offering 3 percent a year.”

“That’s only 1 percent.” She looked up at me in the mirror. “The schools are closed for that?”

“Well, there’s more,” I said. “The union wants a 5 percent raise for classroom aides each year; the district is only offering 3.5 percent. And the union wants a social worker in each school. The district won’t agree.”

“That’s the deal?” she asked. “They’ve locked kids out of school for two weeks so they can argue about 1 percent and whether to stick some do-gooder in the principal’s office? You’re kidding me.”

“You don’t understand how much that 1 percent can matter for folks,” I said.

“Actually,” she replied, “I do. That’s why I finish my day job and then drive for three hours every day. I do that so I can make rent and cover my car payment. So, trust me, I get it. I know exactly how hard it is to earn $55K. Even so, I still wouldn’t leave some kid stranded on the side of the road just to squeeze Uber for an extra 1 percent.”

I sighed. “I don’t think you quite get it,” I said.

“What have the teachers gotten so far?” she asked.

“Let’s see. The schools have agreed to give teachers 60 days of parental leave, though only 40 of those days are fully paid.”

“Just how much money do these teachers make, anyway?” she asked.

“Well, in Newton, the average teacher makes $93,000,” I replied.

“Ninety-three grand,” she said. “That’s pretty good. And I’ve heard that teachers get really good benefits: retirement and health care and the like. And all of that’s paid for with taxes, right?”

“I think you’re missing the real issue,” I said. “The point is that there are other school systems in the state that pay teachers more. Teachers in Newton think they deserve to be paid accordingly.”

“Now that I don’t get,” she said. “On the radio I heard that their schools stayed closed for a long time during the pandemic but the teachers still got paid their full salary for the whole time. That’s a better deal than I or any of my friends got. Did they ‘deserve’ that? It seems to me that if they promised to do a job, they ought to be doing it.”

“I don’t think you appreciate—”

“And I heard somewhere that it’s not even legal for those teachers to strike. Is that right? I mean, are they breaking the law?”

“I suppose that’s technically true,” I conceded. “The state law does say, ‘No public employee or employee organization shall engage in a strike.’”

“Well, there you go,” she said. “The police should tell them to do their job or get their butts thrown in jail.”

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“Look, I think you’re missing the point,” I explained. “The union here is just trying to make sure that teachers are fairly paid and that schools have the staff they need. These are good things.”

“Aren’t those teacher unions the same ones that say parents shouldn’t have choices outside of the school district?” she asked. “I heard on the radio all the angry stuff they said about charter schools and choice. As I see it, it’d be like me working to make sure you couldn’t take a taxi, a bus, the subway, a Lyft, or whatever, and then refusing to get behind the wheel. How does that make sense?”

“No, don’t you see? Their point is that education is a public trust,” I said. “Their goal isn’t to stop people from going somewhere else but rather to preserve that sacred trust.”

“Well,” she said, “if they want my trust, they ought to show up for the job they promised to do. I don’t see how you can say you do something super important and that everyone relies on you—and then just stop showing up for work for two weeks. That’s nuts, especially when kids are caught in the middle.”

I just leaned back and fumed. It’s frustrating when some people don’t get the finer points.

Frederick Hess is an executive editor of Education Next and the author of the blog “Old School with Rick Hess.”

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