Columbus Education Association teachers picket outside city schools as strike begins



With cups of coffee in one hand and "ON STRIKE" signs in the other, hundreds of Columbus City Schools teachers and other professional staff lined the sidewalks outside Yorktown Middle School Monday morning.


Their signs carried the union's demands:


Columbus students deserve: smaller class sizes, art, music and P.E.


Columbus students deserve: a safe place to learn


Columbus students deserve: a safe working environment


Teachers waved at honking cars driving by along East Livingston Avenue on the city's Far East Side.


Several hours earlier at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, the Columbus Education Association announced late Sunday night that more than 94% of its members had voted to reject the Columbus City school board's last final offer and go on strike for the first time since 1975. The union did not release the actual vote count.


The nearly 4,500-member union — which represents teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, psychologists and other education professionals — met for more than three hours at the convention center to vote.


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"It is with a full understanding of the sacrifices that students, parents, and teachers will make together to win the schools Columbus students deserve that CEA members overwhelmingly rejected the Board's last, best and final offer tonight and intend to strike," CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes said.


Board president Jennifer Adair continued to express the district's disappointment in the union striking and mentioned that they believe their compensation package to teachers was generous, along with "provisions that would positively impact their classrooms."


"School does start on Wednesday which means our children will be online learning," Adair said. "We know that this is absolutely not ideal but we do have an obligation as the school district to continue education and supporting our students."


With no new contract, the CEA's previous contract with the district expired at 12:01 a.m. Monday.


Instead of reporting to school buildings for teacher preparation day, CEA members began picketing at 7 a.m. Monday at 20 locations, including 19 schools (out of more than 100) and at the district's Southland Center. Monday and Tuesday are scheduled as school preparation days before the scheduled start of classes Wednesday.


However, teachers at Woodcrest Elementary School, the district's only year-round school which began classes July 27, also picketed Monday.


Union members crowded street corners and sidewalks, lined highway overpasses and marched outside of school buildings across the city. Picketing officially began at 7 a.m., but many union members showed up earlier than that with folding chairs, snacks, thermoses of coffee and coolers of drinks.


Semi-trucks blared their horns in support and waved at the teachers wearing red and gray "solidarity" shirts above them.


"This is crazy. I'm 52 years old. I can't believe we're doing this," one CEA member said as she and several other women walked across the East Livingston Avenue-I-270 overpass carrying picket signs.


The woman would not give her name to The Dispatch; union members were instructed to not speak with reporters and direct all questions to union spokespeople. Fuentes said this was because members selected her to speak as one voice for the union.


"Everyone is in agreement on that, and I feel like I've done a good job with that," Fuentes said.


Union members marched up and down bustling Bethel and Godown roads around Centennial High School on the Northwest Side. Across the street, as teachers carried "Honk 4 Better Schools" signs, a colorful billboard advertised back-to-school savings at the mall at Tuttle Crossing.


An organizer in a neon yellow vest yelled into a bullhorn.


"When CEA is under attack, what do we do?"


"Stand up, fight back!" the crowd replied.


"Whose schools?"


"Our schools!"


At Columbus Africentric Early College K-12 on the East Side, union members waved and cheered as passersby honked their car horns in solidarity.


"Stay strong!" one driver yelled from their truck.


Other drivers simply waved as they drove by.


"I get mad when they don’t honk," one CEA member leaned over and said to their neighbor.


Union members picketing at Columbus Downtown High School were vocal about condemning tax abatements granted by Columbus Ciity Council for wealthy companies and organizations, which picketers said divests millions of dollars from the city's public schools.In Linden, a woman driving an empty Columbus City Schools bus honked in support of the nearly 200 city teachers and educational professionals picketing along the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Westerville Road.


Several representatives from the National Education Association had driven and flown into Ohio from North Carolina, Utah and Connecticut to offer their support for the Columbus Education Association.


Jeff Rubio, a Columbus City School parent, whooped across the street from Linden Stem Academy Elementary School.


Rubio, an electrician and plumber rehabilitating a building in Linden, said he just popped out from the building he was working on when he heard the hundreds of union members cheering early this morning.


“My daughter is going to be a sophomore at West High School,” he said. “I 100% stand with the teachers — they’re underpaid and overworked.”


School, Rubio said, should be a number one priority for Columbus. He said he hopes Columbus City Schools will resume negotiations and listen to the teachers.


Inside the Gulf gas station across from the elementary school, Faisal Khan, who mans the register, said he hopes the strike will end quickly.


Back outside, dozens of union members had temporarily put down their signs and sat down for lunch. Armed with coolers full of sandwiches, snacks and 24-packs of water bottles, they were prepared to stay on the streets for however long would be necessary.


No negotiations are currently scheduled between the two sides. If the strike continues Wednesday, the district plans to begin classes remotely online. Sports and extracurricular activities would be postponed or canceled. Free school lunches, and breakfasts for the next day, will be distributed in grab-and-go containers each school day at 25 locations.


Columbus City Schools said the district will continue to provide yellow bus transportation for charter and nonpublic schools as bus drivers are not part of the CEA. Some yellow buses without students on them stopped and honked their horns as they passed by union members.