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Shumlin Wants To End Teacher Strikes

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Angela Evancie
/
VPR
Gov. Peter Shumlin says he'd like to outlaw teacher strikes and school board imposed contracts in Vermont.

As South Burlington students and teachers spent a third day out of the classroom Thursday, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s patience with the walkout was thin.

He says the strike harms all the wrong people.

“When you see what's going on in a community like South Burlington, the people that get hurt are the kids, the moms and the dads who suddenly have no place for their kids to go during the day," he says.

"When you see what's going on in a community like South Burlington, the people that get hurt are the kids, the moms and dads who suddenly have no place for their kids to go during the day." - Gov. Peter Shumlin

Instead, Shumlin wants to outlaw teacher strikes in favor of mandatory, binding arbitration.

Under that system, districts couldn’t legally impose contracts and teachers couldn’t skip school to hold out for a better deal. Some state employees have similar arrangements. 

“The way that the state employees deal with this, where they don’t have the authority to strike, that both parties go to binding arbitration and both parties live by the decision of binding arbitration so nobody gets exactly what they want but it gets resolved without a strike, would be a better path for Vermont,” Shumlin said.

But Doug Gibson, spokesman for the state employees' union, said binding arbitration applies to a small minority of state workers, although the union would like to see it expanded to all.

“The governor’s reference to state employees enjoying binding arbitration is largely incorrect," Gibson said. "Most state employees, in fact, do not have the right to binding arbitration. It’s the reason VSEA was at the statehouse last session, lobbying in favor of a bill to grant binding arbitration to state employees. Unfortunately, the bill ended up in a study committee, but seeing how the governor supports the idea, maybe this bill can now be passed in 2015.”

Shumlin's idea of barring teachers' strikes is apparently a popular one: According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, teacher walkouts are illegal in 36 states.

“Obviously we support all of the collective bargaining rights that our members enjoy. But we have long proposed moving to a system where both we and local school boards are subject to binding arbitration in the event contract agreements can't be reached.” - Vermont NEA spokesman Darren Allen

Vermont is the only New England state that allows teacher strikes, and the state’s branch of the National Educators Association is in favor of Shumlin’s proposal.

“Obviously we support all of the collective bargaining rights that our members enjoy,” said Vermont NEA spokesman Darren Allen. “But we have long proposed moving to a system where both we and local school boards are subject to binding arbitration in the event contract agreements can’t be reached.”

Despite support from teachers and the governor, the Legislature hasn’t taken up the issue. When it comes up, Allen said, “every single time, every single time, the school boards and the school boards association have adamantly opposed it.”

Steve Dale, the head of the Vermont School Boards Association, said the boards are opposed for two reasons. First, Dale said, binding arbitration would encourage both sides to submit moderate, status quo proposals to the arbiter with the hopes of getting their way, a dynamic he said would stifle innovation in economically tough times. Second, Dale said allowing an arbiter who was not elected and isn’t beholden to anyone involved is not a good method of governance.

"We really don't appreciate the governor's taking the time to have this policy discussion while, you know, several hundred of our members are walking the picket line." - Darren Allen, Vermont NEA

Allen, for his part, would rather not be talking about this at all right now. He sounded somewhat peeved about Shumlin’s comments.

“We really don’t appreciate the governor’s taking the time to have this policy discussion while, you know, several hundred of our members are walking the picket line,” he said.

The policy discussion may continue in the Legislature this winter, but in the short term, parents and students are looking to negotiators to get South Burlington teachers back to work.

Update 2:45 p.m. Oct. 17, 2014 This post has been updated to include comments by state employee union spokesman Doug Gibson. 

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