Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose net worth is in excess of $1 billion, isn’t a fan of underpaid public school teachers going on strike during school hours.
During the recent Education Writers Association annual conference in Baltimore, Maryland, the Amway heiress, who has no prior public education experience, took a shot at teachers in states like Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and elsewhere who have gone on strike demanding better pay, smaller class sizes, and more public education funding.
“I think it’s important that adults have adult disagreements on adult time, and that they not ultimately hurt kids in the process,” DeVos told the room of education journalists. “I think too often they’re doing so by walking out of classrooms and having arguments in the way that they are.”
It’s important to note that throughout history, labor disputes have rarely been non-disruptive. As socialist magazine Jacobin has written, organized labor has always had a history of disruption in which workers fed up with being exploited have resorted to shutting down not just workplaces, but city streets, halls of government, and entire industries, in order to win their demands. Bosses know the power of a strike as much as workers — a recent example of this was faculty at Rutgers University winning major concessions from the institution just by threatening to strike.
Secretary DeVos, for her part, is not likely to relate to the motivation workers have — especially public school teachers — to strike and temporarily shut down their workplaces to get bosses to meet their demands. While teachers are striking for ‘standard of living’ issues like fair wages, a pension, vacation and sick time, etc., Secretary DeVos owns 10 yachts, four private jets, and two helicopters. As Newsweek reported in 2017, DeVos even has a yacht scheduler on her payroll who helps schedule family vacations on one of their many boats:
The DeVos’s household assistant helps the teens pick out “clothing and personal items to pack for travel” and another assistant helps schedule trips on their 10 boats, including a 164-foot boat named the “Seaquest.” An associate captain oversees the scheduling of their yacht trips and a boat maintenance assistant coordinates their meals aboard while also following “proper table etiquette, service and entertaining protocol.”
Striking teachers have also emphasized the need for smaller class sizes in order to better support students, as well as adequate budgets so that they aren’t forced to pay for classroom supplies with their own salaries. They have repeatedly emphasized the negative impact low wages and large class sizes have on their ability to effectively teach students and that their strikes are for the benefit of their students. Students by and large support their teachers. In Denver, Colorado, when teachers shut down schools earlier this year for better pay, students flooded hallways in solidarity protests of their own, chanting slogans like “pay our teachers.”
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.