Your Rights as an Educator-Activist

A word from the legal team about taking a stand.

iStock Photo

Educator activism — locally and across the country — is building for safer schools, increased funding, better pay and support for educators, and improved professional respect. MSEA encourages activism, but we also want members to protect themselves, their jobs, and their local associations by understanding the differences between types of actions and their effects.

Let’s look first at what is protected under the First Amendment. We encourage marches and rallies, signed petitions, letters, statements of support on social media, and lobbying of state and local elected officials. This type of off-the-clock political and community action is protected. When educators act as citizens speaking about matters of public concern, the First Amendment has your back so long as the activities do not disrupt the workplace.

What’s Not Protected?

Activities like walkouts and strikes or the endorsement of, or participation in, student walkouts or similar activities. Educators simply don’t have the legal right under the First Amendment (or state law) to support their students or to protest their own working conditions. Leading or assisting in such walkouts will result in discipline and even termination.

Low pay isn’t the only reason teachers are going on strike. Maryland, pay attention.
On television and across the Internet, Americans have watched in recent days as teachers in Oklahoma have left their…

Your local association can also be penalized for supporting those actions. State law prohibits an employee organization (your local association) from calling or directing a strike.

A local association’s endorsement or support of an educator walkout means a mandatory two-year cancellation of its designation as exclusive representative which eliminates contract negotiations between the local and the board of education and the existing negotiated contract between employees and the board. The school district will also stop making payroll deductions for local association dues for one year after the violation, further harming the local’s ability to advocate for — and support — its members.

Need more information? Contact your local UniServ director.