Pa. Bill To Outlaw Teacher Strikes Advances

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The state that historically has led the nation in its number of teacher strikes is working on legislation that would outlaw them. But while the idea of banning teacher strikes in Pennsylvania has broad appeal, some there are wary of the trade-off.

Legislation passed by the Pennsylvania House early this month and now being considered in the Senate labor and industry committee would replace the right to strike with binding, "best offer" arbitration.

If a school board and teachers' union failed to agree on a settlement by the end of June of that year, three arbitrators would choose one side's offer as an entire package.

Teachers would select one arbitrator, the school board another, and when the two could not agree on a third, the president judge of the region's Court of Common Pleas would decide.

The proposed legislation, however, is not agreeable to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which represents the state's 501 school districts. Officials of the group said that arbitrators tend to favor unions, and that binding arbitration could cost taxpayers millions of dollars in overly generous settlements.

The association said that in 1992-93, for example, school boards in Pennsylvania rejected 58 recommendations from arbitrators, saving taxpayers a total of $32 million over a four-year period.

Binding arbitration "takes the decisionmaking out of the hands of local school board members and into the hands of the arbitrators," said Thomas J. Gentzel, the association's assistant executive director.

The state teachers' union, however, supports the plan, which was introduced by Rep. Joseph M. Gladeck Jr., a Republican.

Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said it would ensure children a strike-free school year and benefit taxpayers by reducing the time, energy, and resources spent on labor relations.

It would also force both employers and employees to bargain more seriously, so disputes would not drag on from one year to the next, he added. "We think that if the right to strike is taken away, then binding arbitration would be a fair means of bringing closure to the bargaining process."

Long History

In the past, Pennsylvania teachers have taken to the picket lines more than those in any other state. Of 32 such strikes in all 50 states last year, 15 of them were in Pennsylvania, according to the school boards' association. In previous years, there were even more.

But a measure passed three years ago that set mandatory schedules for bargaining reduced the number of strikes in Pennsylvania significantly--a fact the school boards' association cites as one more reason to reject the proposed legislation. (See Education Week, May 19, 1993.)

In 1991-1992, there were 36 teacher strikes in the state. The next year, after the passage of ACT 88, there were only 17. And so far this year, there has been only one.

The legislation introduced by Mr. Gladeck comprises two parts: House lawmakers voted 125-71 to amend the state constitution to ban teacher strikes, and 106-87 to replace the right to strike with binding arbitration.

Because the first bill involves an amendment to the constitution, it would have to pass in another legislative session and win approval from voters in a statewide referendum in order to become law. At the earliest, voters could decide the issue in the spring of 1997.

But Mr. Gentzel of the school boards' association said that the Senate did not seem as interested in the proposal as the House, and that his group had been able to generate substantial opposition in recent weeks. "It may not pass for quite a while, if ever," he said.

Vol. 15, Issue 08

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