Two bills, two parties, two goals.
Pennsylvania Democratic Representatives and Pennsylvania Republican Representatives hold divergent views of teacher strikes regarding wage and benefit negotiations. At issue here are the reoccurring teacher strikes that hit the state of Pennsylvania on average 11 times a year.
As of this month, two bills have been proposed in Harrisburg; but the General Assembly is divided amongst the two bills.
Democratic Representatives Davis (D-141), Galloway (D-140), and Bradford (D- 70), and Republican Representatives O’Neill (R-29) and Murt (R-152) signed on in support of Democratic State Rep. Santarsiero’s proposed “Back to Education Act.” The Back to Education Act would place pressure on negotiating periods to start sooner than their current start time.
“Placing pressure on both sides,” is the goal of this bill Rep. Santarsiero reaffirmed. The Back to Education Act will allow teacher strikes, but force negotiation sessions to begin 211 days before the completion of the fiscal year.
The bill intends to mandate union and school district meetings four times during each concession period as well as require collaboration and negotiation between the groups.
In response to his support of Rep. Santarsiero’s bill, Rep. Murt explained to the Bucks County Local News, “[it] requires teachers and school districts to begin negotiating sooner than is now required by law.”
On the other hand, the Republican crafted, “Strike-Free Education Act” has support from the conservative wing of the PA House GOP.
The Strike-Free Education Act, drafted by Representatives Metcalfe (R-12) and Rock (R-90), will ban all teacher strikes during negotiation periods. This proposed GOP bill would make it illegal for teachers to strike during contract discussions, resulting in a $5,000 fine for those attempting to strike. By restricting this ability, Rep. Metcalfe and Rep. Rock feel all energy will be put on furthering education, rather than on strikes.
The bill’s co-sponsors are hoping the Republican majority in both the Senate and the House will be the necessary support for the bill’s passage.
Republican supporters justify changes through confirmation that educators will be given their pre-negotiated salary since schools are required to be open for a minimum amount of days.
While these negotiations ensue, union members are aggravated because many feel that strikes are necessary as a potential action to guarantee the wages school teachers deserve, although both bills are supported by former teachers.
Is the answer to fixing Pennsylvania’s teacher strikes opposing party support? Even with a legislative majority, the Republicans ability to pass the Strike-Free Education Act is being questioned, partly because of their recent focus on the economy and the environment.
It is clear that Democrats and Republicans are divided by their respective parties. However, those lawmakers that singled out their support of the Back to Education Act proved they can move beyond party lines and work toward common educationgoals.
The discussion of drastic changes to our state’s teachers strike rights will continue while the opinion of lawmakers, union members, school districts and children are taken into consideration.