JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's two major teacher organizations took opposite sides on the issue of collective bargaining for government workers at a hearing of the Senate Labor Committee.
The proposal would cover state and local employees - including teachers, university professors, police, and social workers. Gov. Mel Carnahan urged the legislature to pass a collective bargaining bill during his annual state-of-the-state address two weeks ago.
"It gives a little dignity to our workers," said Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County. Schneider and others argued that public workers often have fewer rights than unionized private sector employees.
The inclusion of public school teachers - including higher education - drew the most fire from witnesses and committee Republicans.
Missouri's dueling teacher's organizations - Missouri State Teachers Association, American Federation of Teachers, and the Missouri National Education Administration - were sharply divided in their response to the bill.
The MSTA says that the bill's requirements for binding arbitration and giving a union exclusive bargaining powers undermined collegial relations between school boards and faculty.
Cheryl Haynes, President of the Columbia Community Teachers Association - an affiliate of MSTA, said she opposed the bill because arbitration requirements removed elements of local control.
"We feel like we have the ability the negotiate for ourselves," she said. "And we think children should always come first."
But the state's other major teacher organization took the opposite side.
"Collective bargaining doesn't negatively affect student performance," siad Bob Quinn, a lobbyist for the Missouri NEA. Quinn said collective bargaining was needed to get a fairer deal for Missouri teachers.
The reason for the disagreement between the two teacher organizations was clear, according to some observers.
"If this bill is passed, the MSTA will be eliminated," said Michael Podgursky, an economics professor at M.U.
"There's no need for an independent teacher organization if you have collective bargaining."
Debbi Pyszka, a former teacher in Blue Springs, compared her experience there with her situation in Illinois, citing collective bargaining as the difference.
"I once was calling parents whose children weren't passing the class, and another teacher said that wasn't in my contract," Pyszka said of her time in Illinois.
Pyszka said she said she just wanted to help, and was asked, "What, do you want to make the rest of us look bad?"
"A teacher's power should come from parents and those who support them, not collective bargaining," she added.
Bob Carico, chairman of the Public Employees Commission of the AFL-CIO, says collective bargaining helps resolve conflicts between management and labor.
"There have been strikes in the past because there's been no provision to settle an impasse," he says. The bill requires mandatory third-party arbitration in the event of an impasse.
The bill would not authorize government workers to strike - and would impose penalties if they did.
Public employees outside of lower education offered mixed views to the committee. Social worker Daniel Malin said he supports the bill.
"It would give workers some protection after they speak out," said Malin, an employee of the Family Services Division.
Malin also said it would improve retention of qualified employees - a problem he says is considerable in family services.
But Podgursky took a negative view of the bill's impact on university faculty.
"Professors should be judged on merit and merit alone - not collective bargaining," he said.
Some Republicans chose not to conceal disdain for the bill. "Do you know what this is?" asked Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, as he tossed a two-inch thick document on the committee table.
"This is the New York City Public School teacher's contract. There is stuff in here about what to do with keys," he noted. "Is this what we want for Missouri?"