System is a strike against public education
Majorities in both legislative houses, along with Gov. Tom Corbett, are no friends of public employee unions.
Yet they have been as slow as a summer's day in addressing a major issue that arrives every fall - public school teachers strikes.
Pennsylvania is one of just a handful of states that still allow public school strikes. More than a quarter of such strikes, nationally, have occurred in the commonwealth over the last decade.
The Legislature's objective should be not simply to eliminate school strikes, but to do so while constructing a mechanism to produce fair settlements. As in other states, including union-friendly states such as New York and New Jersey, the goal should be to stop the disruption of school while achieving new contracts.
Several bills have been introduced but none have advanced, even as the Legislature has promoted public charter schools and tax credits that can be used to support private schools. That is odd because resolving the strike issue would go the heart of public education finance.
State law not only allows but encourages school strikes. Because school districts are required to conduct 180 days of school, teachers may strike with impunity, and school board members may grandstand for political reasons without fear of sanction.
Unlike private sector workers who risk much by striking, teachers know they will be paid their full salaries even if they hit the bricks. School board politicians, likewise, know that 180 days of school will be conducted regardless of whether they act in good faith.
There are many models that lawmakers could borrow from to achieve a fair system that precludes strikes and lockouts. Standard features include specific timetables for each stage of negotiations, mediation and arbitration. Pennsylvania's bill should include last-best-offer arbitration - a form that creates great risk for both sides and, therefore, creates incentives to settle contracts before going to arbitration.
More than 100 of the state's 500 school districts have contract negotiations this year, including several in Northeast Pennsylvania. Lawmakers should establish a new protocol that encourages settlements rather than strikes. They also should move to eliminate underlying issues that cause strikes.