Teacher Strike Bill Becomes Test Of Labor Support

Mar 25, 2015

Legislation that would ban teacher strikes in Vermont faces an uncertain future at the Statehouse.

Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright says his original bill, which has become one of the top labor issues of the session, tried to strike a balance. Teachers wouldn't be able to strike and school boards couldn't impose contracts. In the event of a stalemate, Wright's plan called on the Vermont Labor Board to resolve the disagreement.

But the House Education committee looked at Wright's bill and made some key changes. The section of the bill that sent unresolved contracts to the state Labor Board was taken out. It was replaced with a plan to bring in a mediator and to penalize teachers and school boards if a settlement wasn't ultimately reached.

Wright says the change was made because there was too much opposition to his original bill and that the new plan reflects the approach that's taken by most of the states that allow teachers to strike. "The approach that we've now come up with, which is eliminate strikes, eliminate imposition, both sides are basically disarmed of the nuclear options so that's fair. What happens is mandatory mediation and fact finding is required … and that's basically what other states do,” says Wright.

"I don't know where things went off the rails but it surely went off the rails and the end result is a bill that nobody in his right mind from the labor standpoint could possibly lend any support to." - Joel Cook, representative for the teachers union

Joel Cook, a representative for the teachers union, says it makes no sense for teachers to give up the right to strike without binding arbitration. "I don't know where things went off the rails but it surely went off the rails. And the end result is a bill that nobody in his right mind from the labor standpoint could possibly lend any support to,” he says.

The bill could be on the House floor for debate in the next two weeks. The teacher's union is urging Democratic members to oppose the legislation. The final vote could be a barometer of how much clout the teachers union has at the Statehouse this year.