Two outspoken opponents on a particularly contentious education issue in 2011 today agree it’s still too early to tell whether the so-called “collaborative conferencing” system that replaced teacher collective bargaining is working effectively in Tennessee.
State Sen. Jack Johnson and former Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters both told TNReport recently that another couple years are probably needed before the pros and cons of collaborative conferencing become fully apparent.
“We’ll have to see how that is going to work,” said Winters. “I am not confident it is going to be as productive as collective bargaining was for teachers.”
Johnson, on the other hand, thinks most anything is better than the old union-driven system he fought to defeat two years ago. “(Collaborative conferencing) is moving in the right direction,” said Johnson, a Republican from Franklin. “I don’t think we need to be rushing out making any changes right away.”
“It is my hope we could give the new collaborative conferencing concept probably another year or two, and then we should have pretty good idea how it is working,” he added.
The GOP lawmakers who supported legislation targeting TEA in 2011 — which also included a bill to eliminate automatic payroll deductions — believed that over the years TEA had inappropriately become “one voice for all teachers,” even those who didn’t want the union to speak for them, said Johnson, who was reappointed by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey earlier this month to serve as chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
“No one union or organization should have the authority to speak on behalf of all teachers, whether all teachers are a member of that organization or not,” he said. The collaborative conferencing system, said Johnson, will ultimately allow “other organizations to come in and represent their teachers with regards to negotiations with the school boards.”
“Obviously, I think we have seen a reduction in the membership of the Tennessee Education Association, which I think is a direct reflection of the fact that some of their membership was because they were the only organization or union that could negotiate on behalf of teachers in districts that had collective bargaining,” he said. “You are now seeing the growth of some other organizations, like the Professional Educators of Tennessee — and I have even heard that there are other groups being formulated. And, most importantly, a teacher doesn’t have to be a member of any organization in order to have a voice in the negotiation process.”
Winters, who last year retired from his job as chief lobbyist for the TEA, said “there has been a lot of training, but there has been very little on-the-ground-experience” with respect to collaborative conferencing.
Winters emphasized that his observations and viewpoints on such issues are his own, not TEA’s. He predicted, though, that participants on both sides of the negotiating table will find that “the scope of what you can discuss, what you can conference about, is very, very limited.”
Winters hasn’t given up speaking for teacher interests. He now works for the Tennessee Retired Teachers’ Association.
“One of the things that makes teaching attractive is that you know you are not going to get rich, but you do have a secure retirement system,” he said.
Winters said the association is opposing efforts to mandate teachers begin investing in their own retirement accounts. “That would make retirement security dependent upon the whims of the stock market,” he said.