State-by-State Battle on Bargaining Rights Continuing to Unfold
As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's controversial proposal to require teachers to pay more for benefits and curb their collective bargaining rights remained mired in a political deadlock last week, an Ohio plan with some of the same goals was rolling forward, despite objections from educators.
Ohio Republicans, who control both chambers of the state legislature, are backing a measure that would limit teachers' ability to bargain on issues other than wages and a limited number of work conditions, and curtail their ability to negotiate on a host of other issues, including class size and pension contributions.
The proposal would do away with salary schedules for educators and require performance-based pay for teachers and other school employees. It also would require school boards to measure teachers' performance based on a number of factors, including value-added measures of student achievement and peer review by educators' colleagues.
The measure was approved by the Ohio Senate on a 17-16 vote, with six Republicans joining Democrats in voting against it, and was sent to the state's House of Representatives.
"This is a major step forward in correcting the imbalance between taxpayers and the government unions that work for them," Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and a supporter of the measure, said in a statement.
In Ohio, Idaho, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and other states, Republican officials have sought to curb collective bargaining rights or take other steps to challenge teachers' and other public workers' unions, arguing that will give more authority to local school boards and administrators to control education costs and boost student achievement. But those moves have angered labor groups, which say they are being unfairly targeted. Unions traditionally have been major donors to Democratic candidates.
The Ohio measure has sparked protests by teachers and other public workers across the state.
"It represents an anti-worker, anti-student, anti-education agenda," Michele Prater, a spokeswoman for the Ohio State Education Association, a 130,000-member union, said in an interview.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Walker's proposal to restrict collective bargaining sparked widespread protests and drew nationwide scrutiny. The governor and GOP lawmakers, who control the legislature, want to require teachers to pay more for benefits, and they want to remove many of educators' collective bargaining powers. The plan would apply to other public employees, but would not include police or firefighters.
The newly elected Republican, whose state faces a projected $3.6 billion two-year deficit, wants to cut state funding to schools and put new restrictions on districts' ability to recoup that money through property taxes. He says the proposed changes to workers' benefits and bargaining rights are needed to offset those cuts, which would help balance the state's budget.
While GOP lawmakers, who control Wisconsin's legislature, approved the measure in the state's Assembly with no Democratic support, it has been blocked in the Senate, where the 14 Democratic members left the state on Feb. 17 to prevent the chamber from having a quorum and remained away as of publication. Late last week, Republican lawmakers moved to hold the missing Democrats in contempt, in an effort to compel them to return.
Last week, Gov. Walker released a proposed budget that would cut school aid by 8 percent, or by $834 million over the coming biennium. In addition, he would reduce local revenue limits—which determine the amount school districts can recover through local taxes—by 5.5 percent next year, a step the governor says would hold down taxes for the state's residents.
Mr. Walker says that proposed changes to pensions and health care would save districts at least $1 billion over the next two years, enough to make up for the cuts, and that changes in collective bargaining could bring more savings. Some school administrators are skeptical of that claim. ("Money, Policy Entangled in Wisconsin Labor Dispute," March 02, 2011.)
The divisions caused by the governor's proposed collective bargaining changes were evident at the state Capitol in Madison, where protesters, most opposed to the plan, once again massed last week.
The demonstrators included Caitlin Yunis, 30, a Madison middle school teacher, who said the governor's plan to limit bargaining would lead to districts raising class sizes by too much, and making other changes that would hurt instruction.
"Collective bargaining is about the entire package," Ms. Yunis said as she stood in the Capitol's rotunda, "about the decisions that are made in our classroom."
Outside the Statehouse, David Heim voiced support for the governor's plan, carrying a sign that read, "Thank You Walker for Being Strong." The 50-year-old Cambridge, Wis., resident argued that elected officials need to reduce taxpayer costs.
"We finally have someone who has the courage to do this," he said.
Vol. 30, Issue 23, Page 21