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GOP Legislators To Introduce Strike-Limiting Legislation

Burlington high school teachers on the picket line
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Burlington high school teachers on the picket line

As a mediator calls the two sides together to try to resolve the Burlington, Vermont teachers’ strike, two Republican state lawmakers say they will introduce legislation to ban teachers’ strikes and imposed contracts.
In 2015, Burlington House Representative Kurt Wright introduced legislation to ban teacher strikes in Vermont.  His proposal failed by one vote.  On Monday he announced that he and Senator Joe Benning will introduce a modified version of the bill when the legislature reconvenes.   “The essence of both bills will be elimination of imposed contracts, strikes – the nuclear option will be gone. And we will put in place a task force to take a thorough look at any end of you know finality type issues to see whether any changes need to happen at the end of the process to ensure that contracts don’t go on too long.  We don’t think they will.  I think that they could be shorter for most instances. And also that to add an element that negotiations will be done in public unless both sides agree that they need to be done in private.”

Wright notes that Vermont is one of only 13 states that allow teachers to strike. With the Burlington schools closed since Sept. 14, he says there is a need to revisit the issue.   “We are hopeful that people really see how bad now these impositions and strikes are for communities and that you know 37 states don’t have strikes. Already in Vermont police, fire, public safety can’t strike. Nor can state employees because they’re deemed essential services. Well I think it’s time that we elevate teaching kids, the next generation, that that be elevated to a level of essential services as well and that we don’t put teachers in these adversarial positions within the community and we keep them in the classroom teaching and maintaining a real level of respect throughout  the entire community.”

The union representing teachers across Vermont opposed Wright’s 2015 proposal and pans his current plan.  Vermont NEA spokesman Darren Allen criticizes Representative Wright for putting forth a proposal that he says would take away a fundamental right of union members.  “We are opposed to his bill now and we will be opposed to his bill in the future. And Montpelier just doesn’t learn. You know decisions about local schools are best made by local school boards and by local educators with their local communities. They know much better than Montpelier.”

Allen says there is an existing method to resolve disputes.  “Let’s put this into context: almost 50 years of collective bargaining, over 5,000 contracts settled at the local level, only two dozen impositions, only a few more than that in terms of strikes. The system as we have in place right now works. Nobody wants to get to a strike and we have to hope boards don’t really want to impose employment conditions. But what Kurt’s bill would do is make coming to agreement harder than it has to be.  Far from being a symptom of collective bargaining not working, you know a strike while we admit is divisive and destructive to everybody, is the one mechanism that actually forces a resolution.”

Calls to the governor’s office were not returned in time for broadcast.  In published reports, Republican Governor Phil Scott, who supports the right to strike and allowing boards to impose contracts, said “If this proposal is passed by the legislature, I’ll give it fair consideration with the understanding that…..we must ensure affordability, fairness and local accountability are central to any process regarding contract disputes.”

Calls to Senator Joe Benning were also not returned in time for broadcast.

 

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