Proposed teacher strike-ban meets political reality

When only students suffer, teacher strikes will go on. Efforts to ban or discourage teacher strikes in Pennsylvania are well-intentioned, but ultimately unworkable, at least politically and in the various permutations now being discussed.

The Associated Press reported that a bill unveiled by an organization called Stop Teacher Strikes Inc. would force teachers to forfeit two days' pay for each day of a strike, fine individuals $5,000 for inciting a strike, and require nonbinding arbitration to resolve contract disputes within a certain time frame.

Political reality

The overarching political reality is that, at least in the foreseeable future, if such a bill were passed by the legislature it would be vetoed by the governor. In another day, if another governor were inclined to sign such a law, the constitutional implications of treating public school teachers in a manner that sets them so far apart from any other public employee group in the state would certainly result in years of court challenges.

Strikes by public employees, especially those who hold the lives and safety of the public in their hands, have been banned, either by providing for binding arbitration as an alternative to a strike or authorizing the firing of employees who do strike. Pennsylvania is among only 13 states (including Ohio) that tolerate teacher strikes. But many of the states that prohibit strikes provide for some form of binding arbitration. No government official today should willingly agree to binding arbitration. Too many local government budgets have been broken by arbitrators who were incapable of looking at a balance sheet and simply telling the public employees that there wasn't a penny to be spared.

That is not to say that any public school district in the state should be held hostage to striking employees, including teachers.

Change the law

The only law that Pennsylvania needs to change is the one that requires school districts to make up days lost to strikes.

Striking teachers know that eventually they are going to get to work and be paid for 180 school days, They know that those 180 days must be completed by June 30. That gives striking teachers little incentive to settle.

But if the teachers knew that for every day they were on the picket line they would lose 180th of their pay — for a teacher making $50,000, that's $278 a day, nearly $1,400 a week — strikes would be few and far between. If they knew that their health coverage would be promptly suspended and payments into their pension plans lost for the duration of the walkout, teachers would face the same economic hardships that other striking employees assume when they walk out on strike.

Even organized labor should be perfectly comfortable supporting a law that restores balance to the management-labor relationship between school boards and teachers unions. It is unlikely that today three of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts — Reynolds School District in Mercer County, Seneca Valley School District in Butler County and Lake-Lehman School District in Luzerne County — would be closed today if the teachers knew they were losing $200 to $400 a day, money that they would never see.


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