Museum attempts oral history of little-remembered GJ teachers strike
Even after 39 years, the indignation rings out when the participants discuss the School District 51 strike of 1973.
The problem is about the only people who are aware of the history are the teachers and others who lived it.
That fact struck home recently when Phil Born, assistant curator of anthropology at the Museum of Western Colorado, was talking with a group about some cartoons in the collection when he recognized one as referring to the teachers strike.
“What strike?” was the unanimous response, Born said.
That’s when Born decided to put together an oral history of the strike.
Several of the people who played roles in the strike gathered last week to plan out how best to collect the most significant and illuminating recollections.
Participants in the project will describe their experiences in separate taping sessions in July and August.
Some of the recollections, however, flooded back immediately.
Joann Resin, then Joann Yount, recalled dodging law enforcement trying to serve her with an injunction barring leaders from acting in concert during the strike.
Resin was at the home of another teacher, Bob Lubinski, when he was served. She was exhausted and sound asleep just a few feet away, but outside the view of the server, Sheriff L.R. Dick Williams.
“What was funny was that I was just a little kindergarten teacher” who took over as head of the Mesa Valley Education Association, knowing a strike was in the offing, Resin said.
Teachers voted 527–109 on Oct. 15, 1973, to go on strike, angry that the board had denied them a pay increase, even though the district was 14th from the bottom in the state for teacher pay.
The strike ended Oct. 29 when the district agreed to spend $1.5 million more on teacher salaries.
Administrators kept a 14 percent salary increase, though, Resin recalled. Gone were programs that teachers said they wanted kept and were willing to sacrifice to keep, Resin said.
The strike closed schools for nine days, eight of which never were restored, Resin said.
That the strike succeeded in Mesa County was stunning, Lubinski said.
“It was an incredible event for the area,” he said. “For Grand Junction it was an amazing event.”