LEGALIZING TEACHER STRIKES in Massachusetts has become a contentious topic following a spate of illegal walkouts in local districts and a push by the state’s teachers unions to change state law and allow educators to take to the picket line.
What does the public think about the issue? That seems to depend on how you ask.
A poll released last month by Boston-based Northwind Strategies suggested widespread support for allowing strikes. The poll, conducted in February by Change Research, found 67 percent of voters strongly support or somewhat support “allowing public school teachers to go on strike to fight for higher wages and improved working conditions.” Just 29 percent were opposed to that question.
Public sentiment is “loud and clear” on the issue, Northwind said.
Or maybe not.
According to a new survey by the MassINC Polling Group, voters are much more divided on the issue. In a poll MPG conducted in late March for Democrats for Education Reform, 45 percent of voters supported making teacher strikes legal, while 40 percent said they should remain illegal.
The interviewer first explained that strikes by public sector employees are currently against the law, with unions that do go on strike subject to fines, and said there is proposed legislation to make strikes legal.
When the poll highlighted potential downsides of strikes for students, support for legalizing walkouts fell slightly, with 41 percent agreeing with the statement, “Teachers should be able to go on strike, even if it means students miss time learning in school.”
That focus on learning time also pushed up the share of respondents who support maintaining the strike ban, with 48 percent agreeing more with the statement, “Students should be in school and learning as much as possible, even if it means teachers cannot go on strike.”
The poll by MPG, a for-profit affiliate of MassINC, the nonpartisan public policy think tank that publishes CommonWealth, also found that voters weren’t terribly well-informed on the overall issue of teacher strikes.
The first question asked respondents was whether they thought it was currently legal or illegal for public school teachers in Massachusetts to strike. Fully a third of those polled (33 percent) incorrectly thought striking was currently legal, with 45 percent saying they thought it was illegal, and 22 percent saying they didn’t know or didn’t answer.
While the state’s teachers unions are pushing hard for legislation to legalize strikes, prospects for such a change don’t look good based on the views of Beacon Hill’s major players. Gov. Maura Healey, Senate President Karen Spilka, and House Speaker Ron Mariano have all signaled that they don’t support a change in the law.