Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/17/2003 01:45 PM Senate HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 95-72-HOUR NOTICE OF TEACHER STRIKE CHAIR FRED DYSON announced SB 95 to be up for consideration. SENATOR LYDA GREEN, sponsor of SB 95, said that some people have a hard time during the period between the time a strike is noticed and the time it begins. SB 95 would require public school employees to provide a school district with written notice of an impending strike 72 hours prior to any labor action. Current labor regulations allow public school employees to strike without prior warning to the school district or the community. Without a provision mandating proper notice, student safety is severely compromised. Seventy-two hours would give parents sufficient time to make alternative arrangements for their children if schools are actually going to be closed. The primary purpose of SB 95 is to allow time for a school district to make the best decisions and inform students, parents, and the community of that decision. CHAIR DYSON asked how much notice is required now. Senator Green said she would try to find that information. MR. BRUCE JOHNSON, Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB), said the board supported SB 95. Student safety is the primary reason that working families need some advance notice to make arrangements for their children. However, he said the AASB needs clarification of what the 72-hour notice actually includes. For instance, does it mean school employees have to strike within that time or do they give notice and then strike one week out. SENATOR GREEN pointed out that language on page 2, line 26, says, "If advisory arbitration fails, a strike may not begin until at least 72-hours after notice of the strike." She noted however, that a strike is not mandatory. MR. JOHNSON responded that is one interpretation, but it could also mean that a strike can't begin before 72 hours, but could also begin 200 hours after the notification has been given. SENATOR GREEN asked if "advisory arbitration" has a definition. MR. JOHNSON replied that advisory arbitration is one of the steps that must be taken before any action towards a work stoppage can occur. MR. PETE FULLER, Southeast Regional Manager, Alaska Public Employees Association, said the Public Employee Relations Act already provides for a relatively complicated and somewhat detailed procedure as the collective bargaining process reaches culmination. There is also a process whereby the parties are permitted to voluntarily participate in advisory arbitration, which might bring about a binding result to those negotiations. He said it seems to him that imposing, particularly a one-sided, notice period for the union begins to unbalance the process and might stimulate unnecessary saber rattling and posturing. He stated, "At least if there's going to be notice, there ought to be notice imposed on both parties rather than having a no-notice lockout and a requirement of notice for strike action." MR. FULLER said he had been in Alaska for only two years and hadn't heard of any school district strikes; employees had been able to negotiate settlements. He thought this rule might bring too much structure and imbalance to the negotiating process when it's at its most delicate point. CHAIR DYSON asked if by school district strike he meant a walk out. MR. FULLER replied no, he meant a strike is an action instigated by employees. CHAIR DYSON said Senator Green's primary interest is not to imbalance the bargaining process, but to protect kids and to give families time to adapt to a situation. He asked Mr. Fuller if federal law already contains a requirement for adequate notification. MR. FULLER replied that he wasn't aware of a notification requirement in federal law, but federal laws require notification of a strike that takes place in a health care facility. He thought that when a strike approaches, the parties would be mutually concerned about the children and take that into consideration. He added: If the legislature feels the need to insure against the wayward party that wouldn't do that, then we would like to see that protection balanced so that the protection doesn't create an unfair advantage to one party or the other in the bargaining process. SENATOR GREEN said this is not meant to be a bargaining issue. She expressed concern that children have shown up at school in the winter and no one is there. CHAIR DYSON said he knows that making the public uncomfortable or angry helps your bargaining position. MS. BARBARA HUFF-TUCKNESS, Director, Legislative and Governmental Affairs, Local 959, opposed SB 95. She actually negotiates collective bargaining agreements within the Anchorage School District and believes this bill is a direct assault on the collective bargaining process. If passed, SB 95 would have a significant impact on both parties' positions at a bargaining table. If the parties reach a deadlock or impasse, advisory arbitration takes place prior to any strike vote. Both parties look at the advisory opinion and sometime it is another opportunity to bring the parties together and other times it lays the groundwork on where the parties are as they go through the negotiations. There is the ability to declare impasse or deadlock even after the advisory opinion if the parties have not reached any conclusion to the process. At that time, they have the right as representatives of their employees to make notice. Once it reaches the advisory opinion, often something makes the headlines in the newspaper. She added that she makes an effort to educate her people prior to a strike and said: If you've never been at the table, it is somewhat difficult to find that level playing field, but in this day and age with the employers' right to hire striker replacements, when you're attempting to define how much notice an employee has to get, where it ties in - and as the Senator asked earlier - my intent is not to impact the process.... She gave an example of a 1999 bus driver strike that the teamsters were involved in. She gave public notice with written paid ads in the newspaper prior to taking official strike action. Since 1999, she has negotiated three collective bargaining agreements that have been successful and she hadn't heard if any strikes since then. She encouraged the legislature to let negotiations take place at the table and not attempt to legislate that process. CHAIR DYSON asked her if she was saying the 72-hour notice should be part of negotiated bargaining. MS. TUCKNESS replied yes and that was her suggestion when the bill was introduced in 1999 as well. She offered another alternative: If there was such a public concern about employees within the school districts going out on strike instead of requiring them to go out and strike, why not make it mandatory that they can't strike and give them binding arbitration instead? SENATOR GREEN asked if she would support binding arbitration. MS. TUCKNESS said she mentioned it as an alternative. Additionally, she was concerned that language on page 2, line 20, (b) was very limiting and restrictive and could potentially create an inherent conflict with a selected arbitrator. SENATOR GREEN said that language is currently in statute, but it had been moved from page 1, line 10 to a new section on page 2, line 11 and might look a little different. The only actual new language is in the underlined sections on page 1 and section 2 on page 2. MS. TUCKNESS concluded that Teamsters Local 959 is very concerned about the bill and hopes that it doesn't move out of committee. MR. CARL ROSE, Association of Alaska School Boards, said this issue was resolved in the early '90s when the discussion was about binding arbitration. The legislature placed school employees in classification A3, which provided them with the right to strike. He thought school districts understand the economic and political pressure that's brought to bear by a strike and the bill simply is asking that school employees not compromise student safety. That is the extent of their concern. CHAIR DYSON asked if it is impractical to include an agreement on the amount of hours of pre-notification per day as part of the contracts. MR. ROSE replied that he didn't think it is impractical and it could be a negotiating point unless it conflicts with law. CHAIR DYSON thanked everyone for their comments and closed the discussion on SB 95.