Enrollment to the state’s largest teachers’ union is on the decline after the state OK’d sweeping changes to collective bargaining laws, but a rival educators’ association says their ranks are growing.
Professional Educators of Tennessee say their association has seen a 10.6 percent membership uptick in the last year. Meanwhile, several Tennessee Education Association chapters in Middle Tennessee have collectively lost 24 percent of their dues-paying members on automatic payroll deductions, according to statistics first reported by the Tennessean.
“I’m just glad that we have injected competition into the system,” said Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, who sponsored the Education Professional Collaborative Conferencing Act this spring. The law gives school districts the autonomy to set education policy without the approval of a teachers’ union.
“No one organization or one union should have an explicit right to negotiate on behalf of all teachers,” he said. “I’m not surprised. I’m ecstatic.”
The TEA represents the lion’s share of public school teachers in the state and is affiliated with the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union.
The TEA says it will have official membership numbers later this month, but admits membership is dropping.
“I think the whole intention behind this legislation was to try to hurt our membership,” said Jerry Winters, a lobbyist for the TEA.
“When you take away collective bargaining, when you weaken the tenure law, there are some teachers who say there’s nothing the organization can do to help me because they stripped them of their legal right,” he said.
The new law allows organizations like PET to distribute recruitment fliers and information, a practice that was previously banned.
“As people learn about us, they’ll find there is a good difference” between the PET and the TEA, said Bill Gemmill, PET director of membership and media. Those differences include higher liability coverage, lower annual dues payments and a conscientious abstention from political activity, he said.
“I can’t imagine why any teacher would want to join them,” said Winters, who argues the PET has avoided speaking out on education issues. “If teachers are joining them because they’re cheaper, then they’re going to get what they pay for.”
The new law also gives school boards the right to refuse to let teachers automatically pay their TEA union dues using payroll deductions, but the Sumner County School District is the only school board so far to use that power.
Most aspects of the “collective conferencing” law don’t kick in until teachers’ current labor contracts expire.
Of the 92 contracts across the state, 41 have expired this year, Winters said, with the law used to determine new working agreements.