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Budget plan includes fine for R.I. teachers

By Ray Henry
Associated Press / January 17, 2009
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PROVIDENCE - Just doing their jobs might no longer be good enough for Rhode Island teachers.

A budget plan that Governor Don Carcieri submitted this month to close a massive deficit includes a provision making it illegal for teachers to protest during contract negotiations by performing strictly to the terms of their contracts, for example, by refusing to host after-school clubs or chaperone school dances.

It raises a legal question: Can people be fined for strictly doing their jobs? Carcieri's administration believes the answer is yes.

"Not all of your obligations are covered in a contract," said Peter McWalters, commissioner of the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. "Some of them are covered in professional standards and some of them are covered by the nature of you signing on to being a certified teacher."

Besides prohibiting teachers from striking, Carcieri's proposal would ban teachers from conducting deliberate work slowdowns or doing the bare minimum required under their contracts, commonly called working to rule. Violators would be fined two days' pay.

McWalters has also proposed creating a code of professional conduct for teachers that would ban labor disruptions affecting children. Teachers would have to endorse the code to get their teaching license and could lose it for violating the terms.

Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, wants lawmakers to defeat Carcieri's proposed measure, which she considers an unenforceable attack on the union's ability to bargain for its members.

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