Pennsylvania Strikes Out

Article excerpt

It should come as no surprise to Western Pennsylvanians:

The new school year has just started and the region already has its first teachers strike. The Hempfield Area School District board in Westmoreland County rejected a contract proposal from the teachers union, which then proceeded to vote unanimously to authorize a strike.

On Sept. 21, teachers walked off the job. Anyone familiar with the fact that Pennsylvania consistently leads the nation in teacher strikes by a wide margin will not be shocked to learn of the Hempfield walkout.

Only 12 states allow teachers to strike: Alaska, California, Colorado, Montana and Oregon in the West; Pennsylvania and Vermont in the East; Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin in the Midwest; and Louisiana in the South. Wisconsin has a unique restriction on its teachers' ability to strike -- both the school board and the teachers union have to agree to a strike before one can take place. According to the Wisconsin association of school boards, the last strike in that state occurred in 1997.

In the 2005 school year Pennsylvania led the country with 13 strikes. The remaining states combined had only eight -- four in Illinois, three in Vermont and one in Oregon. During the 2004 school year Pennsylvania also led the way with 12 strikes while the rest of the states together had eight. These numbers suggest something is terribly amiss in Pennsylvania.

Consider that of the 12 states where teachers are allowed to strike, nine have some sort of required voter referendum control over school tax increases. Only Montana and Louisiana have no required referendum system in place. Pennsylvania recently has enacted a referendum requirement. But the law has not been tested and it is unclear if a referendum ever will actually be used to approve a tax increase.

Meanwhile, both Montana and Louisiana are Right to Work states and have not been plagued by strikes.

Pennsylvania is unique in allowing teacher strikes with no penalty for strikers, with limited and untested voter referendum control over school spending or taxes and no Right to Work law. This is a formula that should be expected to promote large numbers of strikes. And, in practice, it has. There is no reason to be surprised that Pennsylvania is the perennial strike leader.

Moreover, of Pennsylvania's border-state neighbors, only Ohio allows teachers to strike. However, Ohio gives citizens a referendum vote on tax increases -- which limits the payoff for teachers who strike. At the same time, New York not only does not permit teacher strikes; teachers face stiff financial penalties if they walk out. Interestingly, Pennsylvania and Vermont are the only two states in the entire Northeastern part of the country that allow teacher strikes. …