- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - With last fall’s five-day strike by teachers in Vermont’s best-paying school district fresh in mind, a Vermont House dominated by usually labor-friendly Democrats on Wednesday narrowly defeated a ban on teachers’ strikes.

The House voted 73-70 against an amendment that contained the crux of an underlying bill: a ban on both teachers’ strikes and the imposition of contract terms by school boards.

The vote may not be the final word, however. Republicans said they would push for reconsideration of the issue on Thursday, and Wednesday’s tally showed they might have a chance to bring in some of the six House members who were absent, or push some of those who were on the fence but voted no to switch.

Freshman Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington, scene of the five-day strike in October, proposed the amendment that would have banned strikes and contract impositions and set up a special seven-member task force to study the implications of the change for future teacher contract talks.

“In the end, what did the strike accomplish?” LaLonde, who also serves on the South Burlington School Board, asked during the House debate. “It definitely caused a serious drop in community support for the district’s teachers.”

It also boosted their raises over three years from about 7 percent to about 8 percent.

Backers of a strike ban said Vermont would be joining 37 other states that had banned teachers’ strikes already.

Others spoke passionately of the need to stand with teachers and with organized labor.

“The right to strike is an essential part of the collective bargaining process,” said Rep. Barbara Rachelson, D-Burlington. “Otherwise it’s considered collective begging.”

Critics also said the damage strikes have done has been exaggerated, pointing to a record of 26 of the work stoppages against more than 5,000 contract agreements reached in the four decades Vermont teachers have been allowed to engage in collective bargaining.

The measure splintered majority Democrats in the House, as evidenced by support for the strike from the Education Committee and opposition from the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, which usually handles labor issues.

The afternoon featured heavy parliamentary maneuvering, culminating in Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, switching her vote after the roll call to join the winning side in opposition to the strike ban. That leaves her the opportunity to ask for reconsideration of the LaLonde amendment Thursday.

“There were people that support the bill who weren’t here today,” Komline said. “My hope is that they’ll be here tomorrow.”

The LaLonde amendment was replaced by one offered by Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, calling for a special task force to study collective bargaining between teachers and school boards and to make recommendations for consideration by the Legislature next year. That “strike-all” amendment effectively became the bill and won support on a 75-61 vote.

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