Will Vt. ban teachers’ strikes?

Now picking up steam in the Vermont legislature is a bill that would ban teachers’ strikes in the state, NECN-TV News reports.

But although the Education Committee in the Vermont House voted 8-3 in favor of a bill, including an amendment to ban teachers’ strikes as well as board-imposed contract terms, the bill might have to overcome a little opposition when it comes to the full chamber. The chairwoman of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee said they had voted unanimously in an unofficial straw poll to maintain the status quo in collective bargaining for teachers.

The most likely outcome here, if the bill gets a vote, would be for lawmakers to consider a favorable report from the Education Committee and an unfavorable report from the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, which usually handles labor bills. That is, it’ll be up to the full House.

As we reported, teachers’ strikes are completely illegal in 37 states. In Maryland, teachers can strike on their own, but unions can’t authorize a strike, leaving any striking teachers to fend for themselves. In Washington state, teachers can go on strike, but they might get fired.

Only in 11 states can teachers’ unions legally call strikes in order to push contract negotiations forward: California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and the aforementioned Vermont.

In states where teachers’ strikes are illegal, arrests have occasionally been made to enforce the bans. In New Jersey 14 years ago, for example, four teachers were ordered to spend at least a week in a county jail for remaining on strike in a state that bars teachers’ strikes completely, as this report in the New York Times shows.

Options other than strikes

In some states, teachers’ unions and school boards must submit to binding arbitration, and penalties can be imposed on either side if a deal isn’t reached within a certain period of time, according to the NECN story.

But arbitration, which is favored by some people in Vermont, can be expensive, and we’re not just talking about money.

In 2009, when Massachusetts relied on arbitration to resolve teacher contract disputes, a deal reached between the Boston Public Schools and the teachers’ union there was crafted during arbitration. The process, which took more than half a year, cost the district $42,850 in legal fees, plus $6,000 for its half of the arbitrator’s fee, the Boston Globe reported.

“Any time you put arbitration in there, the result is eminently predictable, and that is that reform will proceed at a glacial pace, if at all,” the paper quoted the president of the Boston Foundation as saying. “If the Legislature needed a reminder of that, here it is.”

Plus, arbitrators usually have no vested interest in the school system, the teachers, or the local community.

“Often these individuals are from out of state and are generally unfamiliar with community issues and Vermont’s education finance system,” NECN quoted a Vermont School Boards Association lawyer, Nicole Mace, as saying. “Handing decisions that impact up to 80 percent of school budgets to these out-of-state neutrals is undemocratic and strikes at the heart of local control.”

The New Jersey School Boards Association officially agrees with her: “New Jersey law does not provide for binding arbitration for teacher contracts. Nor would New Jersey taxpayers want arbitration. Arbitrators do not live in the district, they do not pay for the consequences of their decisions, and they are not accountable to the taxpayers of the community,” the association writes.

A teachers’ union representative countered, though, by saying his rank and file would only support a ban on strikes if binding arbitration were selected as the method of resolving contract disputes.

“We are willing, but not anxious, to replace the right to strike and the right to impose with binding arbitration,” the union’s Joel Cook was quoted as saying.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.