Teachers defend right-to-strike in labor-state

John Busher has no problem with having his salary posted on a Web site that tracks pay and credentials of teachers from all 501 school districts in Pennsylvania. After all, the information is public record, the president of the Hazleton Area Education Association acknowledges. But the union president questions the motives of some of those behind StopTeacherStrikes Inc., a nonprofit organization that launched www.stopteacherstrikes.org.

In a posting listed on the site, StopTeacherStrikes President Simon Campbell, Bucks County, and Ryan Mellinger, a Susquehanna Township teacher, said they formed the group in 2006 following a teacher strike in Pennsbury School District.

The goal, they wrote, “is to guarantee all public school children in Pennsylvania the legal right to a strike-free education.”

According to the Web site, the organization is focused on repealing state Act 195 of 1970, which gives collective bargaining ability and the power to strike to public school employees in Pennsylvania. State Act 88 of 1992 curtailed the length of strikes so that students can finish a school year.

Although the organization labels itself as an “independent” outfit that “supports no political party or candidate,” Busher questioned the motives and experience of Campbell and Mellinger.

“They claim to be unbiased, but if you look at the different aspects of the Web site, what they’re really attempting to do in my opinion is put the teachers’ union in a bad light,” Busher said.

“I don’t know if their intention is to cast some kind of negative light on teachers in general for what they earn or what they do, but basically, they’re not going to get an apology out of me for what I do and what my co-workers do,” he continued.

The Web site has a link to a teachers’ salary database compiled by The Asbury Park Press and Gannett Co. and others that address “forced unionism” and “strike potential” among public schools.

Mellinger describes himself in a brief biography as a “forced unionism victim” because his employment hinges on a condition that he pay union dues.

The salary database could be used to compare 2006-07 teacher pay scales in Pennsylvania to those in New Jersey.

Although Busher said he realizes unions “cost money to run” he said he’s not going to apologize for representing public teachers.

“There are very few other public organizations doing it,” he said. “Before the 1980s, teachers’ rights were few and far between.”

In his nine years as union president, there has not been a strike in Hazleton Area schools, Busher noted.

“We’re not perfect, but we try to do as much as we can to try and keep the schools running properly,” he said. “We work with the school board to try and keep taxes down as well as we can.”

The union and school board Negotiations Committee recently wrapped up a five-year contract effective through 2010.

As of last year, the average Hazleton Area teaching salary ranged between $48,000 and $50,000. In 2007-08, the starting teachers’ salary with a bachelor’s degree is $36,314. Pay varies based on credits and years of service, with the top Hazleton Area salary logged at $69,321.

“If you consider the quality of the education of our children to be worth anything, then salaries do mean something,” he added. “Do you want good people who are well-trained and educated, or do you take what you can get?”


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