Simon Campbell Testimony Before the Senate Education Committee

Member Group : Stop Teacher Strikes, Inc

STOPTEACHERSTRIKES, INC.

Testimony on Teacher Strikes

Presented To The

Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee
April 22, 2009

By
Simon Campbell, President
StopTeacherStrikes, Inc.

Exhibit A: PSEA’s "Good Forever" PAC pledge form used to process political money through public school districts at taxpayer administrative expense.

Exhibit B: Photographs of Grade 11 public school students sleeping in class (strike-affected Pennsbury School District, Bucks County).

Exhibit C: PSEA threatened assault on Pennsylvania’s new Right-to-Know Law.

———————————— 668 Stony Hill Rd. #298, Yardley, PA 19067 ———————————
Tel (215) 586-3573 www.stopteacherstrikes.org
INTRODUCTION

Good afternoon. My name is Simon Campbell and I am a parent of three strike-affected students from the Pennsbury School District in Bucks County.
Pennsylvania’s 1.8 million public school students have a constitutional right to receive a "thorough and efficient system of public education". This system of public education is constitutionally mandated to "serve the needs of the Commonwealth" (Article III Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution).
There is nothing through or efficient about a system that allows children to be ejected from their classrooms for weeks at a time, sometimes multiple times a school year, sometimes year after year. The current teacher strike law (Act 88 of 1992) does not serve the needs of the Commonwealth. The law only serves the needs of the teachers’ union and those legislators who receive electoral assistance from the union.
Teacher strikes cannot reasonably be considered to be constitutional under Article III Section 14. On three separate occasions since the original public employee strike law (Act 195 of 1970) was passed, Pennsylvania’s County Court Judges have ruled teacher strikes to be in violation of the State Constitution. Were it not for a rather unusual 1993 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, this hearing would not be taking place today. These court rulings are available online at:
http://www.stopteacherstrikes.org/index.php?pr=Constitution
VIOLATING THE CONSTITUTION A SECOND TIME IS NOT THE SOLUTION TO STOPPING TEACHER STRIKES

The simple words of Article III Section 14 of the Constitution were ignored by the Pennsylvania General Assembly when passing Act 195 of 1970. The mayhem caused by the number and duration of teacher strikes in the 1970s attest to this fact. To this day Pennsylvania retains the dubious distinction of being the nation’s strike-leader. To date, seven (7) strikes in the 2008-2009 school year have affected nearly 19,000 students. With 21 school districts operating under expired contracts, and another 124 districts with union contracts set to expire this year, the strike threat looms large for many families.
There are two bills in the General Assembly that purport to grant children the legal right to a strike-free public education: Senate Bill 20 from chief sponsor State Senator Robert Mellow and pending House Bill 1369 from chief sponsor State Representative Todd Rock. We support House Bill 1369 (currently circulating for co-sponsors) and encourage the introduction of this bill in the State Senate.
The bill from Senator Mellow which utilizes compulsory binding arbitration to resolve teacher contract disputes is a hoodwinking exercise. In January 2006 a public hearing on this bill took place (then SB 910). A second hearing on similar bill (HB 2635) took place in August 2006. Attorneys from the teachers’ union, the school boards association and the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board have all publicly testified that compulsory binding arbitration for teachers would require amending Article III Section 31 of the State Constitution – which only allows police and firefighters to have their contract disputes forcibly resolved by a third party. The case precedent is available online:
http://www.stopteacherstrikes.org/index.php?pr=Binding_Arbitration
In response to the constitutional criticism of his bill Senator Mellow has offered the empty words that his "Chief Counsel" (i.e. Senate Democrat Caucus advisor, C.J. Hafner) has stated that his bill is constitutionally sound. No case precedent or written legal opinion has been offered. It is unlikely that the taxpaying public would approve amending the Pennsylvania Constitution (a lengthy and difficult process) to allow unelected arbitrators or Judges to essentially control school property taxes. Compulsory binding arbitration for teachers is a poor public policy idea. The approach State Representative Todd Rock has taken with HB 1369 is a more reasoned approach i.e. strike-free education, no binding arbitration, and greater public scrutiny of contract disputes to facilitate but not artificially force a contract settlement.
TEACHER UNION POWER IS THE STRUCTURAL PROBLEM UNDERLYING STRIKES
Teacher unions’ primary function is collecting union dues and influencing politics. There has been little genuine public policy debate in the Pennsylvania General Assembly about teacher strikes, because this issue has little to do with what is just, fair, or even constitutional. This issue is about money and power i.e. who has it and who doesn’t.
In 2008 PSEA’s PAC spent over $1.2 million to influence the outcome of elections. Many more millions of dollars of soft money in the form of union dues is used to shape the political landscape in Pennsylvania. Governor Rendell has stated through his spokesperson that he does not believe in granting school children the legal right to receive a strike-free public education. But the Governor does believe in accepting $500,000 from the PSEA’s PAC for his election campaigns (2006).
Pennsylvania’s school children do not contribute one penny into this political system. Our children are instead placed in the position of simply relying on all elected officials to respect the Constitution. Some legislators will respect it; others will not.
PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT MEANS SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC
Thirty-seven (37) states do not allow public school employees to strike against children’s interests. Public employment and public service was not designed to enrich any individual. It should not be a "right" for a public employee to strike against the public interest. Despite union propaganda, teacher strikes are seldom about education quality. Strike and strike threats are about obtaining more money and benefits for public employees in the form of higher property taxes. If Pennsylvania’s strike law was designed to ensure a quality education system, then Pennsylvania would have the best educated students in the nation since Pennsylvania has the most strikes in the nation. Clearly that is not the case.
Police, firefighters, and military personnel have no right to strike yet they choose to serve their communities and their country anyway. It is time to remind school teachers who believe in strikes (and many teachers, especially non-union teachers, do not believe in strikes) that service to our children is the reason for their employment.
ADDRESSING THE STRIKE PROBLEM REQUIRES ADDRESSING THE ROOTS OF TEACHER UNION POWER
Teacher unions have been granted monopoly bargaining rights over teachers. Teachers are not allowed to choose who represents them in the workplace. Why? Because a system of compulsory union representation ensures the maximum amount of dues dollars flows to the union. Furthermore, in a free nation no teacher should be compelled against their wishes to be represented by an unwanted union in order to get or keep a job. And in a free nation, if a teacher chooses not to join the union, they should not be forced to pay dues to that union as a condition of their employment.
Local teacher unions all across Pennsylvania are utilizing the resources of government to process election-influencing money, and this activity is being performed at administrative expense to taxpayers. In many school districts there is not even an agreement inside the collective bargaining agreement for the school district to deduct and remit PAC contributions. It is essentially being done in secret away from public scrutiny. See Exhibit A.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that teacher unions do not have an affirmative right to use the resources of government to process political money. See Ysursa v. Pocatello Educ. Ass’n, U.S., No. 07-869, 2/24/09. Writing for the court majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts observed that the First Amendment prohibits government abridgement of speech but "does not confer an affirmative right to use government payroll mechanisms for the purpose of obtaining funds for expression."
Public school districts are supposed to exist to educate children. We pay property taxes to ensure that our children are properly educated and prepared to compete in a global economy. This is the reason we have public education. We do not pay taxes to help the teachers’ union influence elections. We do not pay taxes for children to be ejected from their classrooms because government employees believe they should pay little or nothing towards the cost of their healthcare. We also do not pay taxes for students to sleep in front of their teachers. See Exhibit B.
‘WORK TO RULE’, ‘SICK OUTS’ AND OTHER DISRUPTIVE ACTIONS
In addition to strikes, teacher unions routinely use several other intimidation tactics to remind the public that they have little interest in the educational welfare of students. ‘Sick-outs’ (where all teachers coincidentally get the flu on the same day) can be used with little or no prior warning; thereby ensuring maximum disruption to the lives of working parents. ‘Work to rule’ (where teachers are ordered by union leaders not to perform any function that isn’t strictly defined in the collective bargaining agreement) is another tool used to create havoc in the lives of families. Working parents get told they cannot meet teachers after school hours, and extra-curricular and back-to-school activities can be canceled. Such unprofessional union tactics show a disdain for the notion of public service, and are used to wear desperate families down to the point of those families pleading with the school board to cave into union demands to end the contract dispute.
It has been suggested that allowing teachers to strike would be better than perpetual ‘work to rule’ problems. This is a myth. Teachers – some voluntarily and some out of fear of union reprisal – already use work to rule tactics under the current law. There is no data to suggest that the use of such tactics would increase if strikes were outlawed. The solution to the problem of ‘work to rule’ is not appeasement, because the definition of appeasing the teachers union means higher taxes without improvement in education quality. The solution is the elimination of teacher tenure and the ability to write a "professional misconduct" clause inside a union contract such that repeat offenders can have their employment terminated.
ATTEMPTING TO LEGISLATE ‘LABOR PEACE’ IS AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY
The general assembly has no authority to mandate that private citizens or the media have a particular relationship with either school employers or teacher unions. What might be classified as an unfair labor practice when referencing the actions of one of these two parties might be classified differently when referencing the general public. For example, teachers’ names and compensation details are public record. The Office of Open Records has ruled that school employees’ W-2s including employees’ home addresses are a matter of public record. If a school employer were to publish the W-2s of local union officers’ hardcopy in a newspaper during a contract negotiation it might generate an unfair labor charge. Yet should the media take the very same action it would be classified as a First Amendment right. During the Downingtown Area teacher strike last year the local newspaper independently decided to publish the names and salaries of all strikers.
Teacher strikes cause enormous resentment in a community. The conflict affects the entire community, including teachers who do not want to strike but who feel intimidated by the thought of defying the union. It is therefore time for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to seriously address this issue and remind teacher unions that public school districts exist to educate children and that all teachers have rights not just those teachers who are union members. The attitude of the teachers’ union is one of entitlement and it is this mindset that needs to be altered.
Tackling these problems requires bold solutions not incremental solutions such as those proposed by the taxpayer-invoicing Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) monopoly. An incremental approach will not capture the public’s imagination and it is galvanizing public interest that is needed to deal with these problems.
SOLUTIONS
1. Introduce the pending Strike-Free Education Act (HB 1369) in the State Senate and bring it up for a floor vote to be publicized. Do not consider an anti-taxpayer unconstitutional binding arbitration solution.
2. Introduce legislation to eliminate compulsory union dues (so-called "fair share fees") for non-union teachers to respect teachers’ liberty and freedom to choose.
3. Introduce legislation to eliminate the monopoly bargaining rights of teacher unions; thereby granting professional educators the freedom to choose their workplace representation – including the right to negotiate an individual employment contract with their employer if they so choose.
4. Introduce legislation to eliminate the ability of PSEA/PFT to use a public school district’s payroll deduction service to collect union dues and PAC contributions.
5. Eliminate teacher tenure to inject accountability into the system.
6. Request the Secretary of Education research the extent to which high school students are sleeping in class, without assuming it is particular to one School District. See Exhibit B.

Respectfully submitted,
Simon Campbell
President, & public school parent
StopTeacherStrikes, Inc.
668 Stony Hill Rd. #298
Yardley, PA 19067
Tel (215) 586-3573
Email: [email protected]