By Simon Campbell
State Sen. Robert J. Mellow recently held a news conference in Bucks County to tout a bill he authored, which he says would ban teacher strikes and instead require teachers to accept the "last best offer."
Bottom line: This is binding arbitration, and taxpayers should clutch their wallets when they hear those words. It is just a way for teachers' unions to inflate property taxes.
Legislators - including Sen. Mellow - whose election campaigns are bankrolled by teachers' unions typically favor this anti-taxpayer idea. Unions like binding arbitration because it is a great way for them to raid the bank accounts of taxpayers via the back door. In binding arbitration, unelected and unaccountable arbitrators - or a county judge - get to decide what the teachers' contract should cost. Elected school officials then have nothing left to do except raise taxes to pay for it.
In the 37 states that ban teacher strikes, only a small number use binding arbitration. Connecticut, the state Mellow has modeled his last-best-offer plan on, has the second-highest per-capita local property taxes in the nation, behind New Jersey.
Lawyers from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and the Labor Relations Board all have testified in hearings that compulsory binding arbitration for teachers would require a constitutional amendment. This would take four years to get through the General Assembly - before being rejected by voters in a referendum. It is therefore a waste of time. The solution to stopping teacher strikes is to ban strikes and keep cost control with elected school boards.
Parents are tired of having their children's education held hostage, and taxpayers are tired of struggling with escalating property taxes. If Sen. Mellow thought more like a child- and taxpayer-advocate, and less like a labor-union advocate, he would understand this solution.
Pennsylvania has a reputation for being the "teacher strike capital" of the United States, with more strikes than all the other states in the nation combined. During the 2005-06 school year, more than 44,000 children were forced out of school as unions sought more money to feed their demands. My organization, StopTeacherStrikes Inc., has taken the controversial step of posting individual teacher salary lists, and teachers' union campaign contributions, on our Web site (www.stopteacherstrikes.org). This is designed to inject public transparency and accountability into this equation.
Sen. Mellow says his bill is constitutional, but he has flip-flopped on this. He had similar bills in 2004 and 2005 that called for a constitutional amendment. Now, he says he we don't need one after all.
The cruel irony of the Mellow bill is that it would not even stop teacher strikes. Unions would just strike - illegally - as they have done in several other states. Teachers struck illegally last month in 14 West Virginia counties. In 2001 in Middletown, N.J., teachers were handcuffed and sent to jail for striking illegally.
When you have to prosecute hundreds of teachers individually through the court system to prove guilt, it becomes a logistical and financial nightmare for the school district.
The only way to seriously deal with teacher strikes is to replicate the Taylor Law, which is in effect in New York state. Under it, strikes are banned. There is no anti-taxpayer binding arbitration. And there is a defined process with the Labor Relations Board to ascertain collective proof of an illegal strike.
Teachers who strike illegally in New York lose two days of pay for every day they strike and the union loses its dues check-off privilege for one year. Put simply, New York prohibits teacher strikes, and it means business.
Union leaders say they need strikes in order to have leverage. With senior citizens threatened with losing their homes to excessive property taxes, and innocent children being punished, it's about time that taxpayers and parents got a little leverage. Taxpayers have enormous voting power to get teachers' 1970 right-to-strike law changed. It is time for a sleeping giant to awaken.