State legislators move to outlaw teacher strikes
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HARRISBURG -- When the Bethel Park teachers union went on strike for six weeks last fall, Denise Dillon decided she had had enough.
She pulled her son out of Bethel Park High School in January and enrolled him in a cyber school for the rest of his junior year. She said he will spend his senior year at the cyber school, too, because she is worried that, with the labor contract still unsettled, teachers will strike again in the fall.
"I don't want my son in a school that is going on strike," she said.
A group of Republican lawmakers is working to ensure families like hers no longer have to worry about teacher strikes throwing a wrench in the school year.
Reps. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, and Todd Rock, R-Franklin, have introduced a package of bills that would outlaw teacher strikes and hold contract negotiators publicly accountable for their proposed labor agreements.
Mr. Rock's legislation includes hefty financial penalties for teachers who violate the proposed no-strike law. Striking teachers would lose two days of pay for each day of an illegal strike, and those who incite the strike would be fined $5,000 under the legislation. Meanwhile, their unions would forfeit dues check-off privileges for a year.
Mr. Rock's bill also would require union leaders and school officials to "face the music" during town hall meetings every six weeks if there is no agreement in place by June 30 of each year.
Mr. Metcalfe's proposal goes a step further by seeking a constitutional amendment outlawing strikes. That measure requires separate votes in two legislative sessions plus a public referendum.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association opposes the legislation, saying it would single out teachers, tip the balance in favor of school boards, increase the pay gap between educators and other professionals and be punitive.
"Teachers don't like strikes any more than the rest of the community. Our members would always prefer to be working than on a picket line," said PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever. "Our locals exhaust all their other options before considering a strike."
Last year, three of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts had strikes, all in Allegheny County: Bethel Park, Moon and Allegheny Valley.
The strikes left parents frustrated and angry.
Teachers in Bethel Park, who are represented by the American Federation of Teachers, have gone on strike six times over the last 30 years.
"I am against strikes," Ms. Dillon said. "They are wrong. They shouldn't be locking the children out of school."
Other district parents expressed their frustration at public meetings and banded together on social media sites to talk about how to end strikes in the state. Brenda Payseure, the mother of a high school senior, was one of many Bethel Park parents who emailed Mr. Metcalfe to urge him to move forward with the legislation.
"I think it's long overdue in Pennsylvania, and obviously with what Bethel Park has gone through, not just this year, but over the past 30 years, the right to strike is clearly abused by some teachers unions, and there needs to be legislation to stop it," she said.
The strike "made for a miserable last year to high school," she said. "It left my son with a bitter taste in his mouth [for] Bethel Park and the Bethel Park teachers."
Other supporters of the legislation say teachers have a big advantage in negotiations because they don't lose pay when they strike. Instead -- because schools must be open 180 days a year -- they eventually collect their full salaries each year.
"There's very little downside for teachers when they strike. They still work 180 days in the end," said Rep. Don Truitt, R-Chester, who stumped for the Metcalfe-Rock legislation at a news conference Tuesday.
Said Mr. Rock: "Teacher strikes are ultimately the hammer that drives property taxes through the roof as taxpayers are left footing the bill for union-drive salary increases and lengthy arbitrations," Mr. Rock said.
Mr. Rock and others have proposed similar bills in the past. They believe there's more of an appetite for it now that Republicans control both the executive and legislative branches.
"There's a trend now, real motivation toward moving this bill," Mr. Rock said.
If it passes, Pennsylvania would be the 38th state to outlaw teacher strikes.
First Published June 8, 2011 12:00 am