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Lawmaker Touts Bill To Cut Teacher Strikes

September 17, 1991

HARRISBURG (AP) _ Widespread teacher strikes in Pennsylvania have hurt business, contributed to higher taxes and endangered the education of the state’s children, a state lawmaker said Tuesday.

″The children deserve better. The taxpayers deserve a bang for their buck,″ said Rep. Stephen Freind, R-Delaware. He is sponsoring a bill to make it more difficult for teachers to walk off the job.

Pennsylvania has been hit hard this year by teacher strikes and unsettled contracts. On Tuesday, educators in 14 school districts stayed away from classes to demand better contracts.

But a leading teachers’ union official said educators only go on strike when they see no effort by school boards to compromise, and the bill would unfairly tilt the bargaining balance against educators.

Freind’s bill, which is pending in the House Labor Relations Committee, would require teacher unions to get approval from 50 percent of the educators they represent in a secret ballot in order to strike. Union locals currently decide their own rules for strike approval.

The proposal would also require a 48-hour notice if teachers intend to strike, and it would ban selective strikes, in which teachers may or may not work on any given day.

Freind said educator walkouts damage the state and the business climate by disrupting households. He said they also interfere with the education of the future workforce and help teachers pressure for higher salaries, which push up taxes.

″The deck is stacked against the school districts″ in collective bargaining between teachers and school boards, Freind told reporters at the Capitol.

But Annette Palutis, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said she opposes the bill because it would turn collective bargaining into ″collective begging.″

″These are all little things that are dictating to a union how to conduct its business,″ she said.

Ms. Palutis, whose union has about 120,000 members, said many locals already have secret ballots, and school boards usually have ample notice that a strike is coming.

She also defended selective strikes because they allow teachers to strike without closing schools.

Freind was accompanied by state business leaders who support the bill. The chairman of the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce, Pat Gingrich, said selective strikes disrupt communities.

And Joe Oravitz, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said in a telephone interview that he supports the secret ballot provision of the bill because sometimes teachers are against a strike but don’t want to openly oppose their colleagues.

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