Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/03/2003 01:35 PM Senate L&C

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
            SB  95-72-HOUR NOTICE OF TEACHER STRIKE                                                                         
CHAIR BUNDE announced SB 95 to be up for consideration.                                                                         
SENATOR GREEN, sponsor of SB  95, said this measure would require                                                               
notification to  a school district  72-hours prior to  a walk-out                                                               
resulting  from a  labor action.  SB 95  was requested  by school                                                               
districts that have recurring fears  that students will either be                                                               
left  at   bus  stops  or   at  empty  schools.   Without  proper                                                               
notification,  districts  will be  unable  to  inform parents  of                                                               
either  a change  in the  schedule  or the  arrangements for  the                                                               
school day.                                                                                                                     
CHAIR  BUNDE asked  if the  bill should  contain language  saying                                                               
that districts should notify parents as well.                                                                                   
SENATOR GREEN said she hadn't  considered that but the onus would                                                               
be on  school districts to  complete notification, as  they would                                                               
normally do in the course of business.                                                                                          
CHAIR BUNDE asked if a district  would be required to provide 72-                                                               
hour notice if it chose to lock out teachers.                                                                                   
SENATOR GREEN replied that isn't  covered in this legislation and                                                               
that Legislative  Legal and Research  Services could not  come up                                                               
with language that would work.                                                                                                  
SENATOR  FRENCH  asked  if  she  had  the  chart  of  cooling-off                                                               
periods.  She  indicated that  she  did.  He  asked if  they  are                                                               
talking about a required notice.                                                                                                
SENATOR GREEN replied  that all of the steps  had been undertaken                                                               
at this point.  This was an actual decision by  a group of public                                                               
employees who serve that district to strike and walk out.                                                                       
MS. KIM FLOYD,  Mat-Su Borough parent, said she is  the parent of                                                               
two school  age children and  is a public  information specialist                                                               
for the Mat-Su Borough School  District. She strongly supports SB
95, which  would require education  bargaining groups  to provide                                                               
72-hours advance notice of a strike. She stated:                                                                                
     From  my position,  this bill  is about  our children's                                                                    
     safety. It's  not about contracts.  It's not  about the                                                                    
     adults. It's  not about  the unions  or the  balance of                                                                    
     power. It is about, again, children and their safety.                                                                      
She pointed  out that  about 40 percent  of the  Valley workforce                                                               
commutes to  Anchorage on a  daily basis. Many people  leave home                                                               
by 6:00 a.m.,  which is well before students report  to bus stops                                                               
for school. It is her  responsibility to communicate full closure                                                               
information  to  parents,  which   is  a  challenge  because  her                                                               
district covers  a 25,000 square  mile area, roughly the  size of                                                               
West Virginia. She noted:                                                                                                       
     Currently, the  media is the  only resource we  have to                                                                    
     notify parents of a change  in the school day. When our                                                                    
     district does  close a school, which  has only happened                                                                    
     two days in the past  seven years, the decision is made                                                                    
     at  approximately 4:00  a.m.  This  leaves little  more                                                                    
     than an hour  to alert media and ask  for assistance in                                                                    
     announcing  the closure.  While we  have a  local radio                                                                    
     station, it only serves the  greater Palmer and Wasilla                                                                    
     areas. Anchorage  media [is]  helpful, but they  do not                                                                    
     begin  reporting  until  6:00  a.m.,  well  after  many                                                                    
     commuters  leave  for  work.   On  poor  weather  days,                                                                    
     parents  and caregivers  are more  likely to  tune into                                                                    
     broadcast media  for school closure reports.  On normal                                                                    
     winter or  spring weather days,  it is  highly unlikely                                                                    
     that  the community  would consider  school closures  a                                                                    
     Therefore,  many people  would be  left unaware  of any                                                                    
     changes to the  school day and, in the  event school is                                                                    
     to  be  cancelled   at  the  last  minute   due  to  an                                                                    
     unannounced  employee strike,  children will  be placed                                                                    
     at risk. Without adequate notice,  children may be left                                                                    
     unattended at  bus stops and  at home or arrive  in the                                                                    
     cold   without  adequate   staffing  and   supervision.                                                                    
     Parents  send   their  children  to  school   with  the                                                                    
     reasonable expectation that they  will be cared for and                                                                    
     supervised.   It   is   our  professional   and   moral                                                                    
     obligation to provide for  a safe learning environment.                                                                    
     Our  ability to  do  so in  the event  of  a strike  is                                                                    
     minimal. Parents  at work or  on their way to  work may                                                                    
     be  in  a position  where  they  can't return  home  to                                                                    
     supervise  their children.  If they're  not tuned  into                                                                    
     the news, they  may never hear of a  school closure. If                                                                    
     and when they  are alerted to this  situation, home may                                                                    
     be more than  an hour away. There will  be no [indisc.]                                                                    
     if  they can't  leave their  work and  children may  be                                                                    
     left without supervision.                                                                                                  
     Again, a  failure to give  notice puts our  children at                                                                    
     risk; it  is not acceptable. For  these reasons, again,                                                                    
     I strongly  support this legislation. The  72-hour time                                                                    
     frame  is  necessary  to cover  the  Friday  to  Monday                                                                    
     weekend  period.   Communicating  closures   over  that                                                                    
     timeframe  is  even more  challenging  as  many of  our                                                                    
     Valley residents  are outdoors  or elsewhere.  Again, I                                                                    
     believe this bill is about  children's safety and first                                                                    
     and foremost, we  should do all that we  can to protect                                                                    
     them. As  a parent and a  professional communicator for                                                                    
     our  school   district,  I  respectfully  ask   you  to                                                                    
     strongly consider  this bill as a  school safety effort                                                                    
     and   as  a   means  to   protect  our   children  from                                                                    
     unnecessary harm,  because I do believe  that one small                                                                    
     child left unattended is one too many.                                                                                     
CHAIR  BUNDE asked  if  there  isn't a  lengthy  procedure to  go                                                               
through before a strike can be declared.                                                                                        
MS.  FLOYD replied  that those  regulations  had been  rescinded.                                                               
There is  no oversight  of a  strike notice  or a  requirement to                                                               
notify the district of a strike vote.                                                                                           
CHAIR BUNDE said he was  referring to the negotiating process and                                                               
asked if it is lengthy and covered in the media.                                                                                
MS. FLOYD said  her district had never reached the  point where a                                                               
strike occurred.                                                                                                                
CHAIR  BUNDE  asked  if  a precipitous  strike  had  been  called                                                               
anywhere in Alaska.                                                                                                             
MS.  FLOYD  replied  there  was   one  in  the  Anchorage  School                                                               
District. The district  requested 24-hour notice of  a strike and                                                               
the union sent a letter back refusing to do so.                                                                                 
MR.   TOM   HARVEY,   Executive  Director,   National   Education                                                               
Association of  Alaska (NEAA), said  SB 95 is a  solution looking                                                               
for a  problem, however the NEAA  is not in opposition  to it. He                                                               
does not  believe that  acrimonious actions  leading to  a strike                                                               
are  unknown by  anybody.  The referenced  community clearly  had                                                               
become  knowledgeable about  the  circumstances and  it has  been                                                               
NEAA's practice to provide notice  to the community in advance of                                                               
going on  strike. An extended  process must be  undertaken before                                                               
reaching  an impasse  situation  in order  to be  able  to go  on                                                               
strike. He  said the 72-hour notice  is fine, but he  didn't know                                                               
why it wouldn't be 24 or  48-hours notice. He suggested finding a                                                               
different  solution   to  eliminate  strikes  by   public  school                                                               
employees in  Alaska if this  issue is  really one of  safety for                                                               
children. He indicates:                                                                                                         
     But  we  want  you  to be  assured  and  the  committee                                                                    
     members  to be  assured that  we do  in fact,  in every                                                                    
     circumstance take  the safety  of the children  and the                                                                    
     notification  of the  community  into consideration  in                                                                    
     every circumstance that we have  been engaged in in the                                                                    
     state of Alaska in the history of the bargaining law.                                                                      
CHAIR BUNDE asked what he meant by processes in other states.                                                                   
MR.  HARVEY replied  that  there  is a  process  that has  become                                                               
useful  in other  states called  binding  arbitration, last  best                                                               
offer,  issue  by issue.  It  has  led  to far  less  arbitration                                                               
because the parties  get to the position  of becoming reasonable.                                                               
If one party is not, the  arbitrator doesn't have a choice, as in                                                               
normal  binding  arbitration, but  to  award  the party  that  is                                                               
closest to  being reasonable. Therefore,  neither party  wants to                                                               
take the risk of being  unreasonable when they get to settlement,                                                               
which should be the preference of both parties.                                                                                 
CHAIR BUNDE  asked if a  precipitous strike had ever  been called                                                               
from his bargaining unit.                                                                                                       
MR. HARVEY  replied that  the NEAA  has never  gone on  strike in                                                               
Alaska  without the  community and  the  school district  knowing                                                               
that they were going to strike.                                                                                                 
CHAIR BUNDE asked what strike Ms. Floyd was referring to.                                                                       
MR. HARVEY  replied that Ms.  Floyd could  speak to that,  but he                                                               
knew of  a strike that  did not provide  a 72-hour notice  in the                                                               
Anchorage school  district. It  was by  a local  bargaining unit,                                                               
called Totem, who  was not affiliated with any  state or national                                                               
organization. It represents about  1,200 public school employees:                                                               
secretaries, teacher  aides, etc. Everyone in  the community knew                                                               
of the potential of a strike.  The exact time it would take place                                                               
was  announced  by the  chief  spokesperson  for Totem  and  that                                                               
person at the time was a school board member in the Mat-Su area.                                                                
MR.  BOB   DOYLE,  Chief  School  Administrator,   Mat-Su  School                                                               
District, said  he represents over  14,000 children. He  noted he                                                               
served on the  Alaska Labor Relations Agency for  over nine years                                                               
and is  thoroughly familiar with  labor relations law  in Alaska.                                                               
He said this bill is totally  about student safety and that Totem                                                               
was a  union and  its actions  affected school  children. Special                                                               
education children  in Anchorage, due to  the precipitous strike,                                                               
had their  individual education plans  (IEP) violated. That  is a                                                               
serious concern  to him  as a school  administrator even  if it's                                                               
not of concern to NEAA.                                                                                                         
In his  bargaining units he has  gone the extra mile  through all                                                               
processes. In  the last negotiations he  accepted the arbitration                                                               
results.  The  association  rejected  those. When  he  asked  for                                                               
notice to be given, the association refused. He told member:                                                                    
     I  have  a  major  concern about  the  safety  for  our                                                                    
     children,  as Kim  mentioned before,  due  to the  fact                                                                    
     that we  have 40% of  our commuters going  to Anchorage                                                                    
     every  day. Seventy-two-hours  notice won't  affect the                                                                    
     balance  of  power,  but it  will  enable  parents  and                                                                    
     children to be safely supervised  during a strike if it                                                                    
     ever came to be.                                                                                                           
CHAIR BUNDE  asked if advanced  notification could be  crafted in                                                               
the event that a district wanted to do a lock-out.                                                                              
MR. DOYLE said he didn't think that would be a problem.                                                                         
CHAIR BUNDE thanked participants for  their testimony and said he                                                               
would hold the bill for further consideration.                                                                                  

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