Honig Lends Support to Bill Barring Teacher Strikes
Hoping to end "rancorous" and prolonged labor disputes between teachers and districts, Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig of California last week threw his support behind a bill to ban teacher strikes and impose binding arbitration if the two sides cannot reach an agreement.
At a news conference last week, Mr. Honig argued that current collective-bargaining procedures are "too confrontational, too lengthy, and much too expensive." In addition, he said, such procedures have impeded education reform.
State Assemblyman Jack O'Connell, the measure's sponsor, said strikes or labor disputes resulted in the loss or disruption of 7.2 million student classroom days in California last year.
Teachers in Santa Maria, a school system in Mr. O'Connell's district, recently ended a four-week strike. Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Sacramento, Stockton, Anaheim, and San Jose have experienced strikes or labor disputes during the past 14 months.
Under the three-stage collective-bargaining process outlined by Mr. Honig and Mr. O'Connell, districts and unions would have from March 1 of the last year of their previous contract until May 20 to formally negotiate a "good faith" agreement before a mediator would be called in.
If the mediator could not facilitate an agreement by June 7, he would propose a settlement. Both parties would have to submit the proposal to their members for a vote by June 15, if the impasse had not been broken.
If either side rejected the proposed settlement, a three-member arbitration panel would impose a binding decision by June 30.
The measure would ban strikes by school employees and impose fines of up to $500 a day for engaging in a strike or work slowdown.
While Mr. Honig maintained that the measure would "streamline" negotiations and introduce more "informal collaboration" into the bargaining process, the proposal drew criticism from some local union and school-board members.
Because decisions by third-party negotiators in the past have been "very favorable to what the district line has been," argued Catherine Carey, director of communications for United Teachers of Los Angeles, teachers would have reaped far fewer gains "if we didn't have the threat of the right to strike."
The union, which represents teachers in the nation's second-largest district and is the largest teacher collective-bargaining unit in the state, secured greater say in how schools are run and a 24 percent increase in pay over three years following an 11-day strike last May. (See Education Week, May 31, 1989.)
"Even though the process is long and painful," Ms. Carey said, "the collective-bargaining law as it stands is working."
While acknowledging the need to "address the issue of strikes and work stoppages," Nancy M. Findeisen, president of the Sacramento school board, raised concern that binding arbitration "would take out of the hands of school boards and superintendents the ability to make decisions about their local districts."
School-board members must balance salary demands against a district's resources and other needs, she said, but an arbitrator may be "only concerned about settling the dispute as it relates to salary."
Robert M. Green, a member of the Bonita Unified School District's school board, said he feared binding arbitration would "force most districts to roll over because they won't take the time to fiscally analyze what their decisions will cost the district."
Added Thomas W. Payzant, superintendent of the San Diego public schools, "When you give that kind of decisionmaking to a thirdparty panel, you want to be sure there is expertise on that panel that could deal with the sophisticated financial analysis necessary to reach a fair compromise."
Both the California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association pledged to keep an open mind about the proposal.
"We are pleased to have the forum created by this bill to examine collective-bargaining problems" and curb the potential for strikes, said Maureen G. DiMarco, president of the California School Boards Association.
While the association generally opposes binding arbitraton, she said, "there could be a construction under certain circumstances that might make it more palatable."
To accept a no-strike provision, said Ed Foglia, president of the California Teachers Association, the union would have to ensure that "there is a mechanism for resolving the dispute that's fair and equitable."
Binding arbitration has worked in other states and "could very well be a way to get a more expeditious way of solving labor disputes and coming up with a good contract," Mr. Foglia said. "We're not jumping up and down and saying this is a panacea, or opposing it--but we want to be very involved in the discussions."
Before taking a position, he said, he wants to consult with colleagues in Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Iowa, which have binding arbitration for teachers.
Richard W. Collins, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said some school boards maintain the process has inflated teacher salaries, while teachers argue that their colleagues in surrounding states without binding arbitration earn higher pay.
But the 12-year-old law has accomplished its goal of ending labor strife, Mr. Collins said.
"Every fall when we go back to school there are strikes in other states, but not here," he said.
While forging "relative labor peace" in Iowa as well, said Ken Tilp, president of the Iowa State Education Association, binding arbitration has "not served teachers of Iowa well" because decisions are based on how salaries compare to other districts rather than on a district's ability to pay.
Mark Waxenberg, president of the Connecticut Teachers' Association, said his state's law, which requires the arbitrator to take into account the town's ability to pay, "has forced both sides to be reasonable."
Observers noted that the California bill is unlikely to advance until more details are offered about how the process would work.
Mr. Payzant praised its sponsors, however, for their recognition that "the decade of the 1990's has to be different with respect to collective bargaining; we have to provide incentives for collaborative, rather than adversarial, contract negotiations."