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Maine Educators Rally In Augusta For 'Right To Strike' Legislation

Robbie Feinberg
Maine Public
Maine Education Association President Grace Leavitt spoke to a group of teachers at a rally outside the State House in Augusta Wednesday.

Dozens of teachers rallied outside the State House in Augusta Wednesday, arguing that they should have more of a say in local decisions and be allowed to go on strike.

The educators, represented by the state teachers' union, spoke in support of several bills before the state legislature's Labor Committee, including one that would allow public sector workers to strike.

Heather Sinclair, a teacher at Wiscasset Middle High School and a school board member in Edgecomb, said that many teachers are discouraged by their limited options in local negotiations.

"When we don't have a voice in how that is done, and we don't have a voice in the way that we are evaluated, that can start to be really disheartening, and I worry,” Sinclair said. “I worry about declining teachers. I worry about teachers who leave the business in the first three-to-five years."

Democratic Rep. Mike Sylvester of Portland sponsored the bill and spoke at the rally.

"Public workers and teachers have no ability to say, ‘we have reached a point where we are no longer being reasonable, we are no longer making headway, we are no longer listening to each other, and you are not listening to me, and we need to strike,'" Sylvester said.

Opponents of the bill included Steven Bailey, the executive director of the Maine School Management Association. 

"It certainly won't help get budgets passed in communities where citizens already support their schools at the ballot box,” said Bailey. “It will also break the most important bonds teachers have in their communities, and that is with the children in their classrooms."

Opponenets also included University of Maine System Chancellor James Page, who said that he believes a work stoppage could hurt students and make it more difficult for them to graduate. 

"A strike could prevent students from completing their coursework, jeopardizing their financial aid and their ability to graduate on time, thus placing an unfair and undue burden on them that could possibly increase their debt and diminish their career opportunities," Page said. "If we fail to provide these programs and services, we have violated the trust that our students, their families, and all Maine taxpayers have placed in our public higher education system."

For disclosure, the Maine Education Association represents most of Maine Public's news staff.

Irwin Gratz contributed to this report.

Originally published April 17, 2019 at 11:37 a.m. ET.