The House Committee on Education heard testimony Tuesday on a proposal that would ban teacher strikes and contract terms imposed by school boards in Vermont.
The House Education Committee voted to support the bill that would ban strikes by teachers and contract terms dictated by school boards. However, it does not put labor disputes involving teachers into binding arbitration.
The Vermont NEA is the state’s largest teachers union. Spokesman Darren Allen rails at the very idea of barring union members from striking. “It’s an assault on teachers. It’s an assault on labor. The fact that it even saw the light of day in a Democratically-controlled legislature is beyond our understanding. The whole notion of changing teachers’ right to strike and the boards’ ability to impose working conditions had already been vetted over the last several weeks in the House general committee which concluded that the status quo of labor relations works just fine. But Kurt Wright has had as a goal the elimination of collective bargaining rights for teachers and somehow found a receptive audience in the legislature.”
With the legislature in session, the bill’s sponsor Representative Kurt Wright was unavailable for comment Wednesday. The Associated Press has reported that Wright, a Burlington Republican, says other states, including Massachusetts, do not use binding arbitration. Instead they use mediation and have incentives for the two sides in a labor dispute to settle a new contract.
Asked if the bill is needed, Vermont Principals Association Associate Executive Director Bob Johnson notes that he wants to know how it will impact the children. “I can see all sides of it. But the problem that I have is that once you interrupt the educational process then that is not good for kids. So do we need a law? My understanding is Vermont is the only state in New England that allows teacher strikes at this point. I know as part of the proposal that there’s kind of an agreement that if they outlaw teacher’s strikes there would be a penalty built in both for teachers and for school boards if they’re not able to get an agreement done. So at this point we’re still waiting to see what the final version of this bill will look like. But anything that interrupts the educational process is not good for kids.”
Allen, meanwhile, notes that the Vermont NEA views the measure as the most anti-union piece of legislation to come up for consideration since Democrats have controlled the Statehouse. “We don’t expect this type of anti-labor, anti-teacher law, bill, idea to come out of a Democratically controlled legislature in the Northeastern United States. If they want to take away the right of teachers to strike then the only way that that is acceptable is binding arbitration. It insures that a contract will be reached. It is the simplest, fairest and probably most efficient way to handle those very rare instances where boards and teachers can’t come to an agreement voluntarily.”
The vote Tuesday came five months after teachers walked off the job for a week in South Burlington, Vermont's highest-paying school district. The action rekindled interest in strike bans that are in place in more than three dozen states.