MONTPELIER, Vt. – Vermont could soon become the next state to make it illegal for teachers to strike.
Vermont state Rep. Kurt Wright introduced legislation this session that would outlaw teachers strikes and require mandatory binding arbitration for union contract disputes, and the measure passed a House Education Committee Tuesday with some changes, VTDigger.org reports.
Lawmakers replace mandatory binding arbitration with mediation and fact-finding, but retained the no-strike clause when they voted to move the bill to a “more labor-friendly” House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, according to SevenDaysVT.com.
“I think we’ll be doing a good thing for Vermont by ending strikes,” Wright said before Tuesday’s vote. “Both sides are giving up the nuclear option.”
The legislation would also prohibit school boards from imposing contract terms, and would require unions and school boards to take disputes to the Vermont Labor Relations Board if the sides can’t come to an agreement within six months of a contract’s expiration.
If an agreement isn’t reached within a year, then the legislation would automatically increase a district’s tax rate by 1 percent, according to Seven Days.
Vermont School Boards Association executive director Steve Dale aid the group is in support of the bill.
“They came up with a very reasonable approach to a thorny problem,” Dale said. “When you don’t have on the table the possibility of a strike, the message is you’ve got to stay with it.”
The Vermont National Education Association, the statewide teachers union, hates the idea.
“This is very much an anti-labor bill at this moment,” president Martha Allen told WPTZ. “It nothing that Vermont NEA believes our state should even consider.”
Allen said Vermont has had a mere 26 teachers strikes since 1969. The longest was a “brutal” 84-day strike in Heinesburg in 1985, while the rest since then have added up to a total of 150 missed school days, Vermont NEA director Joel Cook said.
Cook condemned the legislation during the Tuesday committee meeting, alleging those strikes have been less disruptive to schools than winter weather, VTDigger reports.
“Any time there is a snowstorm that blankets the state of Vermont, that single day causes more disruption to our students than the entire history of teacher strikes in the state,” he said.
Wright told his fellow lawmakers that the comparison is ridiculous.
“Joel, the union rep just said that he compared strikes to a snow day,” Wright said. “Snow days do not cause school board members to be vilified, teachers to be in conflict with local school board members or community members.”
“Snow does not cause a parent in South Burlington to say, ‘I will not be able to look at my teacher in the same way after the strike,’” Wright said.
Lawmakers also heard from Massachusetts Association of School Committees executive director Glenn Koocher, who spoke about how a ban on teachers strikes in his home state has greatly alleviated labor strife.
There have only been two teachers strikes in Massachusetts in the last two decades, he said.
“Nobody wins a strike, pretty much everyone loses in a strike,” Koocher told lawmakers, according to VTDigger. “So when the expectation is that you will bargain to conclusion, people find a way to reach settlements, and they usually do.”
Regardless, several lawmakers, including Democratic committee chairman David Sharpe, seem to side with the teachers union.
“I think it changes the balance of negotiations in favor of school boards and that it will work to suppress wages in the state,” said Sharpe, who voted against the bill. “Recognizing that 80 percent of school costs are in the cost of labor and benefits, the problem, in my view, is the number of people that are hired, not the wages of any individual person.”
Rep. Darren Allen also objected.
“What happened today can only be viewed as hostile to unions and disrespectful of teachers,” he said.
House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee chairwoman Helen Head, a South Burlington Democrat, told Seven Days “her committee members have been unable to find a satisfactory system for negotiations without a strike option, but will look at Wright’s version.”
“House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) said he’s unsure whether he supports this specific approach, but said it would be “preferable” to make some change in state law to prevent teacher strikes,” according to the news site.
He said he expects some form of the bill will receive a vote by the full House this legislative session.