Pennsylvania Becomes a Teacher Strike Dinosaur
The Commonwealth endured three teacher strikes this past school year, with Allegheny County serving as the epicenter of activity. Walkouts in the Allegheny Valley, Moon, and Bethel Park School Districts inconvenienced students and families and continued the trajectory of Pennsylvania seeing a teacher strike somewhere in the state every year since the 1976-77 school year.
News concerning the state of affairs in the Bethel Park School District brings the issue of teacher strikes back into focus. After enduring a six week strike last year, the Bethel Park schools are once again facing a possible teacher walkout after the board and the teachers’ union rejected an arbitration proposal. Why? Because teachers want more money and continued control over work rules.
If Bethel Park teachers are the first to walk off the job in the 2011-12 school year, they will be doing it in quite a different environment, at least at the national level. As we have pointed out many times, Pennsylvania is in a very small group of states that permit teachers to strike. This past spring Ohio and Wisconsin passed legislation that diminished the size of that fraternity by eliminating the dreadful practice. Both states reported no strikes by teachers in the school year just concluded.
Too bad Pennsylvania is so late to the teacher strike elimination derby. Pennsylvania stands with Vermont as the only state in the Northeast as allowing strikes. None of its neighboring states allow strikes. So why is it that Pennsylvania’s legislators cannot get this albatross off the backs of children and taxpayers? Two bills-one that would amend the Constitution to prohibit strikes and one that would impose penalties for striking-have been in committee since June. Another bill that would have allowed layoffs to occur because of economic reasons (adding that to enrollment decline, cessation of a program, or school consolidation as permissible reasons for layoffs) is similarly languishing in committee.
It is hard to imagine a situation more insulting to management and taxpayers. Not only are teachers permitted to be strike, but they cannot be laid off when school districts face economic and financial hardships. Taxpayers must still cough up more money. Only when a district eliminates a program can a teacher be dismissed.
Pennsylvania should assist Bethel Park and other districts facing a strike by quickly passing a law containing the provisions of Wisconsin’s Act 10 passed earlier this year. Indeed, under the Wisconsin statute, not only would they be forbidden from striking, they would not be allowed to bargain for anything other than base wages. Benefits, work rules, etc., would be left to management to decide upon.
Moreover, the school district would not be permitted to withhold union dues from employees and remit them to the union bosses. And finally, the union would have to hold a recertification vote every year with a requirement that 51 percent of all bargaining unit members vote in the affirmative for the union to continue as the representative of the employees.
Or Pennsylvania could look to Ohio. That state’s changes to their collective bargaining law prohibits strikes by public employees, including teachers, and imposes penalties of two days’ pay for every one day out on a strike. It also restricts bargaining to wages and some working conditions, but not pensions, health care, or sick time. There is to be a statewide referendum in November to determine whether or not that law will continue to have force.
Bethel Park would certainly benefit from a dose of Wisconsin’s or Ohio’s treatment of union abuse of taxpayers and the public. Justifications for permitting teacher strikes ring very hollow and reflect no values or principles that actually promote education quality or efficient and effective delivery of education to Pennsylvania’s students.