No pay for striking teachers, Sheldon declares

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

OLYMPIA… When teachers go on strike, Washington taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay them for it, says state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch – and he is introducing a bill requiring school districts to dock their paychecks.

“I don’t think people realize teachers get paid when they go on strike,” Sheldon said. “It’s not supposed to be that way. But during my 25 years in the Legislature, we’ve had plenty of teacher strikes, and I’ve never seen teachers lose a day’s pay for walking off the job.”

Sheldon will reintroduce a bill he offered in 2001 and 2003, forbidding school districts from counting strike days as “sick days,” “snow days” or otherwise providing compensation. Under state law, strikes by schoolteachers and other public employees are illegal. That law is widely ignored, Sheldon observed. When a strike concludes, school districts and union officials generally agree to contracts in which striking teachers face no penalty.

The issue has been thrust into the spotlight by a decision this week by some 3,000 schoolteachers affiliated with the Washington Education Association to walk off the job, in an attempt to put pressure on the Legislature. In eight of the nine school districts that joined the walkout, union leaders had signed contracts in which they promised not to strike. Some districts already have announced the walkout will be treated as a “snow day,” meaning an extra day will be tacked onto the school year and teachers will receive full compensation.

“The right to strike is an American tradition, and I don’t want to interfere with that,” Sheldon said. “But there are good reasons the law treats government employees differently than private-sector workers. That goes double when union officials promise not to strike, and then they ignore their promises.

“I can’t name a single business in America where workers are paid by their employers when they go on strike. The same principle ought to apply when taxpayers have to pick up the tab.”

Sheldon’s earlier bills cleared the state Senate but did not receive hearings in the state House. Sheldon said he will introduce the bill Friday, the final day of the Legislature’s regular session, and will renew the effort during the special legislative session that is scheduled to begin next week. He said he hopes the current attempt to pressure the Legislature will underscore his argument. Both the House and the Senate have agreed to provide major spending increases for basic education this year, and Sheldon noted a Senate budget proposal gives K-12 schools 47 percent of the state budget – its highest percentage in 30 years.