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Ohio, Illinois Teachers Win New Bargaining Rights; N.J. Bill Fails

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Sheppard Ranbom contributed to this report.

Lawmakers in several states have taken significant actions this summer on collective-bargaining issues. In Ohio, the legislature passed a bill mandating collective bargaining for public employees for the first time. In Illinois, two bills mandating collective bargaining for teachers, school employees, and college and university employees are on the governor's desk awaiting his signature. And in New Jersey, unions seeking to expand bargaining rights were handed an unexpected defeat. Two other states, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, postponed action on important bills until the fall.

The Ohio bill, signed into law by Gov. Richard F. Celeste on July 6, is viewed by union observers as an unusually strong one because it includes a right-to-strike clause. Only seven other states have legalized strikes for some public employees, union officials said. More than 30 have laws requiring public employers to bargain with properly elected employee representatives.

Under the Ohio bill, which becomes effective April 1, 1984, most of the state's 580,000 public employees, including teachers, may legally strike. Exceptions are made for safety forces such as police, firefighters, and prison guards, who may not strike, but whose negotiations must go to binding arbitration in case of an impasse.

The bill also includes a clause favored by the unions that prohibits supervisory personnel from negotiating in the same units with teachers, said Philip Kugler, assistant to the president of the American Federation of Teachers. He said the state chapters of both of the major national teachers' unions had fought to include that provision in the bill.

Governor's Support

Local unions succeeded in passing the bill this year--after more than 10 years of defeats--principally because of the support of Governor Celeste, said Richard Hindman, a spokesman for the Ohio Education Association. Governor Celeste, who took office this year, drew strong support from teachers during his campaign, and promised to back a collective-bargaining bill, Mr. Hindman said.

In Illinois, Gov. James B. Thompson has until Oct. 1 to determine what he will do with two bills, both of which would provide comprehensive bargaining rights for all education employees.

The Governor has broad amendatory powers and can "literally change the substance of the legislation," according to Chuck Burdeen, director of communication for the Illinois Federation of Teachers (ift).

One bill, SB 536, would mandate collective bargaining for nearly all public employees (including teachers but excluding police and firefighters). The other bill, HR 1530, is specifically targeted for teachers, other school employees, and college and university employees.

Eighty percent of the teachers in 487 of the state's 1,012 districts are already covered by bargaining agreements. HR 1530 would give bargaining rights to teachers in the remaining 522 districts, as well as to bus drivers, clerical personnel, lunchroom attendants, and employees of the state's colleges and universities. The employees would also have the right to strike under certain conditions.

According to Leo E. Hennessey, assistant superintendent in the state department of education, the House bill "sailed" through the legislature with few amendments because, for the first time, the two teachers' unions worked together to draft the bill they wanted and lobbied for the same bill.

(There have been unsuccessful attempts to push bargaining bills through the legislature since 1966 when Chicago teachers were unionized, Mr. Hennessey added. In 1980, an Illinois Education Association bill passed the Senate and failed in the House while an ift-backed bill passed the House but failed in the Senate.)

Under HR 1530, regional superintendents would recognize the bargaining rights of school employees' organizations presenting proper petitions. The state would establish a three-member education labor-relations board to handle mediation, fact-finding, and voluntary binding arbitration. The bill authorizes strikes if arbitration is not selected and appropriate procedures are followed.

Employees could negotiate wages, hours, terms, and conditions of employment, with dues deduction negotiable and service fees for nonmembers permitted. The bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 1984.

Most of the opposition to the bill comes from the 522 small rural districts in the southern and central part of the state that have resisted bargaining.

The other bill, also still on the Governor's desk, SB 536, provides bargaining rights for all public employees except firefighters and police. But the bill reserves rights for management not stipulated in the House bill, and it establishes a single-tiered grievance process that observers say would save the state $3.5 million.

The House bill would cost about $7 million to administer compared to the $3.47 million for the Senate bill, according to Mr. Burdeen of the ift

In New Jersey, an effort by the New Jersey Education Association to expand the scope of teachers' bargaining rights was narrowly defeated in the state Senate after an easy victory in the House. The bill would have opened up for negotiation such issues as class size and discipline procedures.

"It was a terrific uphill fight," said Loretta Brennan, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, which led the fight to defeat the bill. "Everyone thought it would pass."

Ms. Brennan said one reason for her association's unexpected success in blocking the bill may have been that several unusually effective lobbying groups joined the campaign. These opponents included the New Jersey Taxpayers Association and the Conference of Mayors, she said. The bill was defeated on June 30 by a vote of 22 to 18.

In Pennsylvania, one of the few states where teacher strikes are legal, a bill has been introduced that would restrict that right. The bill would require that at least 50 percent of a union's members vote in order to call a strike. The bill has not been acted on yet; it is not expected to emerge from the House education committee until next fall, according to a legislative spokesman.

Curbing Groups' Power

The bill is one of seven that aim to curb the power of teachers' organizations. The package reflects public frustration with the unions after a year in which one district's teachers were on strike for 84 days--the longest teachers' strike in the state's history--according to William Campbell, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. "That set the mood for what's happening now," Mr. Campbell said.

Another of the bills would impose financial penalties on teachers and unions that do not comply with court orders in labor disputes. All of the bills now under consideration have been proposed and defeated in past years, but because of the unusually strong sentiment against strikes, Mr. Campbell said he could not predict the outcome in the legislature next fall.

In North Carolina, a bill that would have allowed dues for the state's largest teachers' organization to be deducted from payroll checks was not acted on in committee before the legislature adjourned on July 20. E. Eugene Causby, executive director of the North Carolina School Boards Association, which led lobbying against the bill, said he feared that the dues-deduction measure, if passed, would soon be followed by mandatory collective bargaining and by strikes.

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