Are teachers strikes even legal in Washington?

SEATTLE -- With school canceled in Seattle and in some other districts around the state, many are once again asking whether teachers’ strikes are even legal.

Parents, especially, wonder why these educators are able to disrupt the lives of thousands of students and families.

Under Washington state law, public employees aren’t allowed to strike.  That much is pretty clear.  But are teachers considered a part of that group?  That question isn't settled.

The whole idea behind the law is that chaos would reign and safety would suffer if you allowed public sector strikes.  Imagine if police officers or firefighters, for instance, walked off the job.

Those who oppose teachers strikes argue the same logic applies.

“Teachers are paid to do vitally important, essential work -- the education of our children,” said Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center.  “That is why it is illegal to go on strike.”

Finne argues that teachers are just holding out for the money.  “It is embarrassing to our city that this is happening,” she said.

But educators have a much different view, certainly union leaders in Seattle do. They argue that teachers aren’t covered by the same law as other public employees, and so nothing prohibits them from striking to get a better deal.

Seems like there should be an easy answer, but the fact is that there has never been a state Supreme Court ruling on the issue.  No one has ever taken a case that far.  The truth is, we don’t know for sure if these strikes are legal or not since the high court has never spoken.

So, every year we have a number of walkouts, we have a debate about whether they are allowed, but no one ever starts lawsuit to answer the question once and for all.