Our Voice: Legislature must act to deter future strikes

We were all relieved to see the eight-day teachers strike in Pasco come to an end last week. Students, teachers and administrators can all now go back to the job they are hired to do, provide the best education possible for the next generation of doctors, lawyers, mayors, legislators and engineers.

During these formative years, school children learn more than what the curriculum provides. The social interaction and examples set by teachers and school officials significantly influence their perception of how our society works and helps them develop their interpretation of right and wrong.

That’s why we should resist the temptation to put the strike behind us, at least until our state legislators take steps to avert future teacher strikes.

Strikes by public employees, including teachers, are against the law. That’s clear. And while union leaders may have danced around the issue of legality in communication to their membership, they were pretty clear in pointing out one critical point. There will likely be little or no consequences for defying state law.

Although the law prohibits strikes, it doesn’t have defined penalties for public employees who strike or the organization that orchestrates that illegal action. That leaves room for a broad range of punishment.

According to current law, school districts must initiate court intervention. As union representatives told their membership, elected school boards are reluctant to sue teachers. Even when school boards find the courage to pursue legal action and prevail in court, penalties are completely up to the judge’s discretion. As we saw in Pasco, those penalties are often negligible because judges are also hesitant to be perceived as punishing teachers.

The issue here isn’t about teachers. The Pasco teachers had legitimate issues that deserved to be addressed. But no organization, regardless of how honorable the profession of their membership, is above the law, and the consequences of breaking the law must serve as a deterrent.

In Maryland, an employee organization that strikes loses its right of representation for two years and schools stop making payroll deductions for dues for 1 year after the violation.

The Legislature, in the next session, must amend current law to provide adequate deterrents or teachers strikes, deemed successful and without consequence, will become the norm, not the exception, in the state.

Equally, if not more, important the Legislature must quit kicking the education funding can down the road, fix the issue of levy inequality and meet their constitutional mandate of adequately funding K-12 education.

Correction to Friday’s editorial

Friday’s editorial on fish consumption had an incorrect conversion — 175 grams is equal to 5.6 ounces. Our apologies, especially to all those enthusiasts who know how to weigh a fish.