Teachers’ Strike Renews Interest In Labor Dispute Laws

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(Host) Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca wants lawmakers to pass a bill that would dramatically change how local school boards and their teachers resolve labor disputes.

The plan would outlaw strikes by teachers and make it illegal for school boards to impose a settlement on teachers when the two sides can’t agree on a new contract.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) After a 9 day strike, teachers in Bennington and the local school board reached agreement on a new contract and Commissioner Vilaseca is hoping that this will be the last teachers strike in Vermont.

Vilaseca notes that Vermont is one of just 13 states in the country, and the only one in New England, that allow teachers to strike. He wants to ban strikes in Vermont because he says they’re so disruptive to students and their communities.

(Vilaseca) "As Commissioner of Education my number one priority is what’s in the best interests of students and I don’t see how a situation where the adults are unable to come to an agreement about whatever the issue is, in this case a strike, has such as negative impact on thousands of students for example in this case, and then what it does to the polarization of the community."

(Kinzel) Under Vilaseca’s plan, teachers would lose the right to strike and school boards would lose their authority to impose a settlement on teachers. Disputes could then be resolved by binding arbitration. The Commissioner thinks it’s a fair trade off for both sides.

(Vilaseca) "What I’m proposing is that we do something that levels the playing field so each side cannot apply that really last option but that it requires the adults to sit down, continue to sit down, and work it out."

(Kinzel) Nicole Mace is the vice president for legal services at the Vermont School Boards Association. In a prepared statement, she said the Commissioner’s plan was worth looking at.

(Mace) "This is a very difficult time. There is significant pressure on boards all around the state as they work to provide excellent educational opportunity at a time of diminishing resources. It is critical that teachers and boards understand the economic situation of the state and country and respond accordingly."

(Kinzel) Darren Allen is a spokesperson for the Vermont Teachers Association.  He doesn’t think much of the Commissioner’s plan and he says the end of a strike is a terrible time to begin this discussion.

(Allen) "What is troubling about the commissioner’s assertion that taking away the fundamental right to strike simply because it’s disruptive is unfortunately of a pattern of assault on collective bargaining that we see around the nation but we’re not going to have the conversation right now."

(Kinzel) Legislation that mirrors the Commissioner’s plan was actually introduced last winter at the Statehouse and has been assigned to the House Education committee.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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