Teachers across North Carolina plan to march next week to demand better pay and working conditions, and one state lawmaker is blaming "union thugs."
State Rep. Mark Brody, a Republican from Union County near Charlotte, posted a letter on his Facebook page Friday criticizing teachers who plan to march on May 16 instead of teach.
"Why is it that they cannot figure out that in about 3 weeks the school year will be over and the legislature will still be in session?" Brody posted.
"Let's call this what it is, Teacher Union thugs want to control the education process!" he posted. "I am speaking up because I don't want Union County schools, and for that matter all NC school systems, to turn into Chicago. Let the Union thugs get their way now and we are half way there."
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The event is being organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators, which is highly critical of the GOP-run legislature.
North Carolina is a right-to-work state that restricts union activity, and it has one of the country's lowest rates of union membership. The North Carolina Association of Educators is an affiliate of the National Education Association, the national teacher's union. But the NCAE doesn't have collective bargaining powers with the state.
Mark Jewell, NCAE president, said Brody's post is offensive to teachers who have been given permission to take the day off by their districts to raise awareness about their work conditions.
"It's another example of the disrespect educators are getting from some legislators in the General Assembly," Jewell said, adding "It's the state's responsibility to fund public schools. We're $2,600 below the national average in per pupil funding."
Wednesday's march coincides with the start of a new legislative session for state lawmakers. Thirty-five school districts — including those in Wake County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Durham and Chapel Hill-Carrboro — are planning to close on May 16 because so many teachers will be absent.
Republican lawmakers said the state has provided teacher raises each of the last five years, while Democrats have said education remains underfunded.
State House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, recently suggested the marches are partisan.
"It seems to me this is part of a national thing that has been orchestrated by Democrats," Moore said. "If you look at other states where this has happened, they have not been as generous as we have."
To help parents, the N.C. GOP is offering a free, alternative event for families at Coconut Charlie's Bump N Bounce on Wednesday.
Brody's post was published the same day that the school system in Union County, an area he represents, announced that it would close schools on Wednesday. More than 1,000 teachers — nearly half of the teachers in the county — reported that they planned to skip work that day to attend the march.