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Alaska Legislature Considers Measure

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The Alaska state legislature is considering a bill--strongly opposed by local school boards and apparently by some state legislators--that would include teachers in the Alaska Public Employees Relations Act (pera) and establish a binding-arbitration panel to intervene in collective-bargaining disputes under certain conditions.

Supporters of the proposed bill, which has been approved by the Senate, claim it would address the problem of impasse in contract negotiations and teacher strikes by offering a procedure for settling contract issues.

However, local school boards have opposed the bill in letters to the state legislature and during recent hearings because it would remove responsibility for teacher contracts from elected officials.

Recently approved by the House education committee, the bill must still be reviewed by the House finance committee before it can be considered by the full House. According to committee staff members, it is possible that Gov. Jay S. Hammond will veto the bill because of the strong opposition. But prior to the Governor's consideration, its biggest obstacle may be the legislature's imminent adjournment.

If approved by the state legislature and the Governor, the bill would add Alaska to the nine states with laws that now permit teachers' strikes, according to Doris Ross of the Education Commission of the States, which has conducted a nationwide survey of collective-bargaining laws.

Under the provisions of the bill, teachers would no longer be exempted from the pera and, under certain circumstances, they would be permitted to strike if contract negotiations reached an impasse. Local school boards, however, would have the option of placing the issue before the voters, who would decide whether teachers should be allowed to strike.

If a majority of the voters deny teachers the right to strike, contract disputes would automatically go to the binding-arbitration panel, according Jefferson Barry, a staff member for the House labor and commerce committee, which also has reviewed the bill.

Mr. Barry explained that the three-member arbitration panel would include a representative chosen by the school board and one from the teachers' organization. The third panel member would be a professional arbitrator.

Robert C. Green, president of the Association of Alaska School Boards, which represents the 42 school districts, said the Governor has indicated he would not support the bill in its present form. He said many are concerned that the bill "diminishes local control."

During a meeting last month, the Fairbanks school board voted to oppose the proposed bill because it could eliminate "good-faith bargaining." Members of the school board said they would support "a serious effort at arriving at a finality to negotiations that does not compromise the legally defined authority of elected officials to govern."

On the other hand, Donald Oberg, president of the National Education Association-Alaska, said that the bill offers the best compromise in teacher-contract disputes and that the school boards oppose the measure because they think "they already have the best of both worlds."

In past bargaining sessions, according to Mr. Oberg, "school districts have selectively chosen to accept advisory arbitration-panel decisions as they see fit."

He said he believes the bill will receive House approval; if it does not, he said, there will be another bill next year.

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