On late Wednesday afternoon, the Vermont House rejected legislation that would ban teacher strikes and the imposition of contracts by school boards. The bill was defeated by just one vote.
Under the bill sponsored by Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright, if there's a total stalemate on contract negotiations, teachers would receive no increase in pay, and the community would face a 1-cent surcharge on their local property tax rate.
Wright said it was critical to ban strikes because they have a long-term negative impact on a community.
“Strikes are disruptive and divisive and don't do any good for anybody,” Wright says. “Nobody wins in these strikes. Not the kids, not the families, not the teachers, not the school board."
The House General Affairs committee opposed the bill. Waterbury Rep. Tom Stevens said it penalized teachers far more than local school boards.
"We could not support a bill that proposes to change a fundamental tenet in public sector labor relations law in a way that throws the process out of balance, which is exactly what H.76 does,” Stevens says.
Most of the debate focused on an amendment proposed by South Burlington Rep. Martin LaLonde. Under his plan, a special task force would be appointed to research options to resolve labor disputes, including the possibility of binding arbitration. If the group doesn't come up with a proposal, the ban on strikes and imposed contracts would go into effect in the summer of 2016.
"The fact the strikes and imposition would be prohibited as of July 2016 would add incentive for the task force to come back with a timely thorough analysis,” LaLonde says.
Burlington Rep. Chris Pearson said Vermont has had only 25 teacher strikes in the last 40 years, and the amendment was unfair to teachers.
"With this amendment, we have a solution searching for a problem,” Pearson says. “We've been told this will improve the collective bargaining process. Yes, it will – for the school boards."
Because of the closeness of the vote, backers of the legislation could ask for a reconsideration of this issue on Thursday.