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House Approves Collective Bargaining Limitations

The Tennessee House and Senate have approved competing plans overhauling the state’s collective bargaining laws.

But both chambers’ leaders believe they’ll ultimately end up banning unions from negotiating teachers’ labor contracts once everything is said and done.

“I think the vote today indicated that we can get it passed if it’s reasonably drawn and reasonably written. I think we have the opportunity to pass it here,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, told reporters after she presided over a grueling four-hour debate on her chamber’s floor.

On a 59-39 vote, majority Republicans moved to scale back teachers’ collective bargaining powers.

Opponents included all the House Democrats, one independent and five Republicans. They pitched more than two dozen alternatives to weaken or derail the bill, but only a few tinkering with technicalities passed — the rest were either tabled or later withdrawn.

One opponent to SB113/HB13o, Democratic Rep. Mike McDonald of Portland, wheeled out an easel and poster boards to help illustrate what he thinks collective bargaining has accomplished to aide teachers beyond helping them get better contracts. The system has allowed them to pressure school boards into purchasing additional “instructional supplies” and other educational materials for their classrooms, he said.

A band of Republicans railed against the bill, too. The GOP caucus members who voted against SB113/HB130 included Reps. Scotty Campbell of Mountain City, Mike Harrison of Rogersville, Dennis “Coach Roach of Rutledge, Dale Ford of Jonesborough and Bob Ramsey of Maryville.

Independent Kent Williams also voted against the anti-collective bargaining legislation. The former state House speaker from Elizabethton hinted during the floor debate that the bill was no more than “political payback” because the Tennessee Education Association gives dramatically more money in campaign contributions to the Democratic Party than they do the GOP.

Republicans maintained that their efforts were solely about improving education in Tennessee, and that ultimately everyone — teachers, students and taxpayers — would benefit from loosening the union’s grip on policy and personnel discussions.

GOP lawmakers said they believe the TEA has become a force of obstructionism in education reform discussions over the years, and that the process of collective bargaining between a school board and a single employee organization to the exclusion of all others thwarts input and exchange of new ideas.

“We have allowed a professional organization to hijack education in our state for their own agenda,” said Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican.

Far from being an “attack on teachers,” as opponents of the legislation have painted GOP efforts for months this session, SB113/HB130 represents “the most empowering legislation I’ve seen in a long time for teachers,”said Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol.

Eliminating collective bargaining and allowing school boards to consider other viewpoints and voices when drafting new contracts for education professionals “will help (teachers) succeed,” said Lundberg.

Under the House proposal, teachers unions would no longer be able to negotiate salaries, merit pay, use of grant funding, teacher evaluations, personnel decisions along with policies relating to special education programs like virtual school districts.

Unions would, however, still be able to hammer out issues like benefits and staffing decisions.

Powerful Senate Republicans though have said all along they will accept nothing less than a complete repeal of the 1978 Education Professionals Negotiations Act, which mandates that school districts negotiate with a recognized teachers union.

Not only would the Senate prefer no mandate to collective bargaining, but they’d rather teachers and unions “collaborate” with school districts on issues they want to debate on — but ultimately leave those policy decisions entirely up to the school board.

The rest, they say, they’re happy to compromise on.

So what happens now?

The two chambers will likely play a short game of legislative ping-pong where the Senate rejects the House version of the collective bargaining overhaul then the House turns down the Senate version.

Then speakers from both chambers will name three lawmakers to represent the chamber in a conference committee, essentially a compromise group meant to hash out the differences between the two bills.

Harwell said she’d consider naming Education Chairman Richard Montgomery of Sevierville, bill sponsor Debra Maggart of Mt. Juliet and Rep. Harry Brooks of Knoxville to the committee. Although she will make the committee assignments later in the week, it’s unclear whether she’ll swap any of those members for a Democrat as conference committees traditionally included a member of the minority party.

That Was Then, This Is Now

Jimmy Naifeh, a 36-year veteran of the Tennessee General Assembly and House speaker for 18 of those years, is among the most vocal Democratic legislators opposing GOP efforts to limit or eliminate collective bargaining for public school teachers.

But this isn’t the first time the crafty Covington lawmaker has figured prominently in Tennessee’s tug-of-war between workers’ rights and respecting local school board autonomy.

He has, however, switched sides on the issue.

The legislation currently in the Tennessee General Assembly — the House version of which is scheduled for a vote on the chamber floor this evening — is an attempt to rein in or repeal the 1978 Education Professional Negotiations Act, a law that forces local school districts to bargain with unions when certain thresholds of teacher support are met. (UPDATE: The House on Monday put off voting on HB130 until Thursday.)

Under the terms of the 1978 law, still in effect today, when those conditions are met, a “professional employees’ organization” is awarded sole and formal negotiating authority to “(deal) with boards of education concerning, but not limited to, grievances, wages, hours of employment or conditions of work.”

The 1978 act was designed “to protect the rights of individual employees in their relations with boards of education, and to protect the rights of the boards of education and the public in connection with employer-employee disputes affecting education,” according to Tennessee state code.

When 30 percent of teachers in a district demand a vote to be unionized — and a majority of those teachers voting in the special election choose a union to represent them — then that union is awarded the designation as the district’s “exclusive representative” for teachers. That role gives the union sole privileges to negotiate on behalf of all teachers in the district. With that state-mandated recognition comes the power to exclude from labor discussions with the school board any and all competitors and individuals who wish to negotiate alternative or competing agreements.

The Act passed when Naifeh was in his fourth year as a state representative. The Senate passed it on a 20-10 vote. The House passed it 60-38. It was signed on March 10, 1978 by Democratic Gov. Ray Blanton, who, according to a Tennessean article written the next day, “made a surprise visit” to a Tennessee Education Association convention in Nashville so that teachers could witness him officially make it law.

But Naifeh was by no means then the champion of mandatory collective bargaining that he is now.

In fact, Naifeh and then-state Rep. John Tanner were “viciously opposed” to giving unions the power to force collective bargaining with local school districts, said Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, who was present at the debate and voted in favor of the 1978 Act. Tanner served 22 years as a United States Congressman from Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District after 12 years in the state House of Representatives.

“They tried every rule, everything in the book to stop it,” DeBerry said of Naifeh and Tanner.

Tanner didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.

In audio recordings of House floor debate over the 1978 Act, Naifeh can be heard attempting to add amendments to the bill that were derided by supporters of collective bargaining as delaying tactics or attempts to kill the union-friendly legislation.

Naifeh in 1978 was a supporter of local control, and he argued that the state was imposing its will on the districts by forcing them to recognize and exclusively negotiate with a teachers union.

“All I’m asking is that you give the people of your district the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to have professional negotiations,” Naifeh at one point pleaded with his House colleagues.

But between the fiery debates then and now, Naifeh has done a 180-degree change of course.

“I made a mistake, and I have admitted that many times,” Naifeh told TNReport earlier this legislative session. “At the time, it just didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t think it was the way to go.”

However, he added, “Once it got in place and all, I realized that we needed collective bargaining.”

And if anything, the former House speaker is even more adamant today in supporting collective bargaining for teachers than he was against the idea in 1978. He’s often among the most incensed Democratic voices as GOP-driven developments unfold seemingly beyond his or his party’s influence.

“I’ve never seen anything more political in my years in this Legislature than what has gone on in the first few months, and I am sick and tired of it,” Naifeh thundered during one House subcommittee debate earlier this year.

Naifeh said he changed his mind on public-sector organizing after talking to school board members and his local director of schools, who told him “it gives them an opportunity to be able to sit down with the teachers and discuss these things in a very civil manner.”

“It may not have been a mistake then,” Naifeh said of his 1978 vote, “but today and even a few years after that, I can see where it was playing a role.”

Former Tennessee Education Association President George Kersey Jr. told the Tennessean in 1978 that the legislation was not “specifically designed for the TEA or its affiliates,” but would instead give teachers a choice about which organization could represent them.

Nevertheless, TEA has come to dominate teacher unionization in Tennessee, representing two-thirds of the 64,229 public and secondary school teachers. The other association that represents school employees in the state, the Professional Educators of Tennessee, has only about 5,000 teachers.

Jack Johnson, the Senate sponsor of the proposal to repeal collective bargaining and replace the system with a more open and less regulated system of communication between teachers and school boards, said he believes there’s little objective evidence to warrant continued support of mandatory collective bargaining in 2011.

“I think that it is clear if you look over the history of collective bargaining that it hasn’t worked,” said Johnson, a Franklin Republican who ushered his bill to passage in the Senate on an 18-14 vote earlier this month. “So, why he could be against it then and for it now, I do not understand.”

Johnson added that there’s “plenty of evidence where (collective bargaining) has created an adversarial and hostile relationship between teachers’ unions and the school boards.”

In fact, injecting a dose of political strife into how locally elected school boards conduct their affairs may have been partly by design. Responding to the suggestions that mandating collective bargaining would be a recipe for pitting teachers and school boards against one another, one lawmaker who supported collective bargaining commented during the 1978 House floor debate that “in some rural areas, tranquility and mediocrity have gone hand in hand.”

House records from that year reveal concerns about teacher input, and whether the bill would add to education problems or solve them — issues echoed in the current debate over tenure and teachers’ unions.

Then like now, teachers turned out in force at the Capitol to rally in support of state-mandated collective bargaining. They were “packing the galleries” during the House debate, according to the Tennessean.

Reid Akins, Andrea Zelinski and Mark Engler contributed to this story.

Amid Political Uncertainty, Collective Bargaining Bill Headed to House Floor

For the second time this session, Tennessee Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell had to throw a lifeline to a proposal to curb the power of unionized teachers to exclusively negotiate labor contracts with local school boards.

The Nashville Republican offered the tie-breaking vote Wednesday, 13-12, to advance a proposal restricting collective bargaining through the committee system. A similar intervention by Harwell was necessary to save the same measure, HB13o, back in March.

“I made a commitment to the membership of Republican Caucus that they would have an opportunity to vote on this on the House floor and in order for them to do that, this bill had to come out of committee today,” Harwell told reporters after the hearing.

Three Republicans voted with Democrats against the bill, including Rep. Scotty Campbell of Mountain City, Rep. Mike Harrison of Rogersville, and Rep. Dennis “Coach” Roach of Bartlett

Republican Rep. Jim Coley abstained, telling reporters later that he felt a conflict of interest because he belongs to the Tennessee Education Association. His urge, he said, was to vote against the bill, which likely would have killed it. Coley said he hasn’t decided if he would vote on the measure on the House floor.

There are two competing bills the General Assembly is considering. The House version would limit the issues teachers unions can bring to the collective bargaining negotiating table. A bill that has already passed the Senate would eliminate collective bargaining entirely by repealing the 1978 Professional Education Negotiations Act that currently requires school boards to negotiate labor contracts with one recognized teacher union in 92 Tennessee school districts.

GOP Caucus Chairwoman Debra Young Maggart, who is sponsoring the House legislation, was the only Republican during the committee hearing to spend any significant time defending the collective-bargaining rollback efforts, or attempting to argue they will benefit education in Tennessee.

“Saying over and over that this is an attack on teachers is a very nice talking point because I want you all to know that it’s not true,” said Maggart. “We are trying to make sure that we have every tool available to advance student achievement in our schools, that’s what this is about.”

But Democrats say they don’t buy that, and they also maintain there’s little public or local political support for the GOP-led effort to restrict union influence in Tennessee’s school systems.

“I think it’s the tail wagging the dog,” said Rep. Gary Odom, a Nashville Democrat who accused the original architect of the bill — the Tennessee School Boards Association — of driving the proposal without support from their local school boards. “I think this is an attack on teachers. I think it’s motivated politically. To me, until those in my community who work on education issues every day in their position, tell me this is good, how can I vote for it? How can you vote for it?”

Republicans on the committee offered little in the way of rhetorical defense of their caucus chairwoman, save the GOP majority leader, Gerald McCormick, who did so while admitting the collective bargaining bill is treading on thin ice.

“I don’t know that there’s the votes to pass the Senate bill. I honestly don’t,” McCormick told the committee, adding he prefers the House version himself.

Democrats on the other hand spent significant time arguing that passage of the Senate bill is a foregone conclusion — meanwhile admitting they fully understand the strategies being employed by Republicans, having been in the majority themselves only a short time ago.

“This is inside politics,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh told the committee after predicting the House will end up adopting the Senate version. “This is the way it’s done, and it’s a roughshod sometimes, and I’ve been on both sides of that.”

Speaker Emeritis Jimmy Naifeh outlined to the committee exactly what he thinks will happen to the bill, ultimately ending in the House adopting the Senate version although it never made it out of any House committees.

But Fitzhugh said he understands the reality of being in the minority.

“We know the votes. We know what the votes are. So something’s going to pass and I guess the lesser of two evils is the House version,” Fitzhugh told TNReport after the vote. “Like I said, I didn’t fall off a turnip truck. I can see what’s coming down the road.”

House Reverts to Scaled Back Collective Bargaining Plan

House Republicans are, for now, sticking with a bill that limits labor union influence in teacher contract negotiations with local school boards.

But even though House Bill 130 doesn’t entirely eliminate formal collective bargaining, Democrats suspect that’s the direction things are headed once the bill reaches the House floor.

A House Education Committee voted 11-6 Tuesday to advance a measure that restricts the issues teachers’ unions can haggle with school districts over. The unions could negotiate issues such as pay, benefits and working conditions but could not bargain over issues including merit pay — for example, when teachers get paid extra to work at troubled schools.

Rep. Debra Maggart, the sponsor of the bill, shook off criticism from Democrats that she may be watering her proposal down now but ultimately plans to trade the bill in for the more sweeping Senate version later.

“I don’t know that anything here is a ploy. I am just trying to do my job as a state representative,” said the House GOP caucus chairwoman. “I would prefer to ban collective bargaining. That was my original intent, but again, I’m at the will of the body.”

The Legislature has spent weeks juggling multiple versions of the collective bargaining bill — with opposition from Democratic lawmakers like House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, who supports the current law mandating collective bargaining in districts where teachers have unionized.

“What does this bill do for our students? It does absolutely nothing except antagonize the teachers,” the Democrat from Covington said.

Naifeh, who has led the charge against the plan, suggested that any effort by Republicans to beef up the bill once it gets to the House floor would be met by even more anger than if they moved it through the committee system.

“That will just make the public even more upset. It will make the teachers more upset, and maybe, if it’s that bad, we can come back next year and fix what we have done,” he said.

The Senate has already passed SB113, which repeals the 1978 mandate that school boards formally negotiate teacher contracts with a union. While the Senate’s bill removes the requirement that school boards collectively bargain contracts with a union, it does require that school boards discuss labor issues with teachers and any unions looking to represent them.

That plan won just enough votes to pass in the full Senate.

In the House, though, the bill has met resistance not just from the minority party but liberal Republicans as well.

Although Republicans have a 64-34 majority, some in the GOP have shied away from the Senate plan, which raises questions as to whether it has enough support to pass.

A handful of Republicans joined Democrats in the finance committee last week to refer the bill back to the Education Committee, delaying the bill’s progress to any full House vote.

One of the chambers’ highest ranking Republicans, GOP Leader Gerald McCormick, told reporters he was unsure whether the plan has enough support to pass this year. Speaker Beth Harwell later offered a slightly different take, saying she believes doing away with collective bargaining still has a “razor fine margin” of support.

Any rollbacks or restrictions on collective bargaining are staunchly opposed by the major teachers’ union, the Tennessee Education Association.

The union’s lobbyist said he believes the decision to pass a bill out of committee that still mandates limited collective bargaining is a tactic to keep the issue alive and on the move toward the House floor.

“I believe they clearly are intent on passing something and this was just practical on their part,” said Jerry Winters, the TEA’s chief lobbyist.

Collective Bargaining Bill Clears Senate

Democrats on Monday accused Republicans of “muzzling teachers” and creating a new “unfunded mandate,” but that didn’t stop the GOP-led Senate from voting to repeal an existing state mandate that school boards collectively bargain with local teachers’ unions.

Sen. Jack Johnson, who has spearheaded a Republican-led push to roll back the 197os-era requirement that local districts obtain approval for their workplace policies and contract offers from teachers’ unions, said he is happy with the latest version of a bill to eliminate collective bargaining.

His plan, Senate Bill 113, would require that school boards consult a policy manual and solicit input and “collaboration” from individual teachers and their associations. Locally elected school boards would no longer be bound by law to formally hash out binding labor contracts with a single union representing all the district’s teachers.

“I think where we are now codifying that school boards be statutorily required to accept teacher input, I think that’s a good thing. It’s arguable whether that’s necessary. In my view, if the school board is not listening to teachers, they’re either going to be beaten in their next election or they’re not going to be able to hire very many good teachers,” he told reporters after the hour-long debate in the Senate.

Whether to eliminate collective bargaining, and thus weaken the power of the Tennessee Education Association to negotiate teachers’ labor contracts, has dominated this legislative session and sparked rallies attracting thousands to rally on Capitol Hill.

Indeed, Democrats argued that Republicans have become obsessed with the collective bargaining issue, to the detriment and neglect of other pressing education issues.

“Senate Bill 113 represents the U-turn that we have done on education policy in this state,” said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga. “Last year we had Race to the Top, this year we have ‘Dive to the Bottom.'”

Berke said the bill “divides and polarizes our communities.”

“2011 will be known as the session about the collective bargaining ban — not jobs, not education reform, not infrastructure,” said Berke. “This bill unfortunately moves us backward, not forward.”

In its newest form, the bill would allow the local board of education to “collaborate” or debate with teachers or representatives from the teachers’ union on salaries and wages, grievance procedures, insurance, fringe benefits, working conditions, leave and payroll deductions — but all decisions would be entirely up to the school board.

“Collaboration” is a term added from the House version of the bill which was structured to allow collective bargaining but restrict the topics teachers unions could negotiate. Architects of that version, including House Speaker Beth Harwell and Rep. Debra Maggart have since embraced the Senate version of the bill and expect to add their language to their version of the plan this week.

According to the bill:

“Collaboration” means the process by which the chair of a board of education and the board’s professional employees or such representatives as either party or parties may designate, meet at reasonable times and in good faith confer, consult, discuss, exchange information, opinions, and proposals on matters within the scope of this part relating to the terms and conditions of professional employee service.

A bundle of topics are completely off the table for discussion, including merit and differentiated pay, how government grants and awards are spent, teacher evaluations, staffing decisions and personnel decisions on issues like filing vacancies, school assignments, positions, professional duties, transfers within the system, layoffs, reductions in force and recall.

The teacher’s union steadfastly opposes the bill, saying the state shouldn’t replace collective bargaining with a policy manual.

”That manual is your collective bargaining agreement,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, the top-ranking Democrat and a chief opponent to the bill. “The biggest difference between this amendment and the law today is… they have to meet but they don’t have to consider their opinion.”

House Republicans have yet to take the new version of the bill out for a spin but expect to put it before the Finance, Ways and Means committee Tuesday, which will likely be packed at the TEA has asked teachers to sit in on the hearing.

Ramsey Proud of Senate’s Teacher Collective Bargaining Repeal Vote

Press Release from Ron Ramsey, Speaker of the Tennessee Senate, May 2, 2011:

Bill increases collaboration between local school boards and teachers

(Nashville) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R – Blountville) emphasized his ongoing support tonight for Senate Bill 113, a crucial piece of education reform legislation sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) which passed on the floor of the Senate by a vote of 18 to 14.

The bill has now cleared the Senate committee system two times after being amended to make explicit the increased collaboration the bill fosters between teachers and their local school boards.

“Union contracts have hamstrung our local school boards for too long,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “More than a year ago our state raced to the top and planted our flag as a beacon for education reform in the nation — but our journey is not over.”

“In 1978 the General Assembly gave a monopoly to one government union and allowed that union to strangle the hope of education reform in this state,” said Sen. Jack Johnson. “This bill rectifies that mistake and gives power back to locally-elected school boards and teachers. The passage of this measure is necessary if we mean to continue on the path of education reform we have embarked upon.”

“We have a historic opportunity to make this session of the General Assembly a landmark for the cause of reform. This bill creates a collaborative environment between teachers and their local board which will ultimately result in putting a quality teacher in every classroom.”

“This bill has been debated extensively and amended effectively,” Lt. Governor Ramsey continued. “I’m proud of the Senate for passing this measure and I trust the state House will follow suit.”

The bill as amended will end long term union contracts that local governments and taxpayers cannot afford and provides for a policy manual that would outline how every local school board will set policies on salaries, wages, benefits, including insurance and retirement benefits, leaves of absence, student discipline procedures and working conditions for teachers.

The companion House bill sponsored by Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) is currently awaiting action in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Education Progress Report: Incomplete

Lawmakers have spent much of the year squabbling over education overhauls for how school systems, teachers and their unions operate in Tennessee.

Democrats and leaders with the state’s largest teachers’ union are fighting the GOP-driven proposals but lack the political muscle to pose a serious threat to Republicans who control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office.

Republicans have picked up some education bills and dropped others like hot potatoes. Some of those lawmakers have splintered off and opposed prime education reform bills, thickening the political plot as the legislation inches closer to passage.

Meanwhile, officials with the Tennessee Education Association say teachers feel beat up by this year’s line-up of bills targeting them and their profession.

Here’s a progress report on where the key education bills are in the legislative process:

Leaders Say They’re Done Bargaining Over Collective Bargaining (SB113/HB130):

After four substantial rewrites, the newest version of a bill to do away with teachers’ collective bargaining privileges is now facing a vote on the Senate floor. House Speaker Beth Harwell and House sponsor Debra Maggart — who originally sided with Gov. Bill Haslam in favoring a scaled-back collective bargaining bill — now say they’re both happy with the latest version because it melds drafts from the two chambers and completely bans unions from negotiating teachers’ contracts. Haslam has yet to weigh in on the newest version. The Senate passed the bill on Monday, 18-14.

Teacher Tenure Revamped (SB1528/HB:2012):

Check this one off the list. Haslam signed into law a series of changes to teacher tenure, chiefly by giving schools the ability to take away tenure from under-performing teachers as defined by a new evaluation system. Democrats said they generally agreed with the bill but bitterly fought to delay its implementation until schools can give the newly designed teacher evaluations a test run. Republicans forged ahead anyway and the bill will kick in for the next school year.

Charter School Expansion A Slow Grower (HB1989/SB1523): Haslam is a huge proponent for charter school expansion, but his plan to open up enrollment and lift the cap on the number of charter schools is moving slowly through the Legislature. When we last left this bill, both versions had made their way out of the education committees, however they still face the two Finance Ways and Means committees, scheduling committees, then votes on the chamber floors.

Vouchers Go To Summer School (SB485/HB388): This bill went largely unnoticed until it landed on the Senate floor last week and narrowly won a majority vote. The bill would allow students to switch to a private, parochial, charter or another public school via a state-issued scholarship. Less than a week later, House Republicans kicked the bill into a summer study committee, essentially killing the measure for the rest of the year.

Managing the Memphis Merger (SB25/HB51): The Legislature kicked off this legislative session by passing a bill slowing down the merger between the Memphis City Schools system and Shelby County Schools after Memphis officials decided to disband the district. Democrats loathed it, Republicans loved it, and Haslam has already signed it into law.

Dues Deduction Dead, For Now (HB159/SB136): On top of pushing bills attempting to marginalize the Tennessee Education Association, Republicans also attempted to ban teachers’ automatic payroll deductions to pay their union dues. There’s not enough time to push that bill this year, according to Rep. Glen Casada, who was carrying the bill. The Franklin Republican said he missed the deadline to take up the bill in a subcommittee but vows to bring the measure up again next year.

Political Contribution Confusion (HB160/SB139): A proposal pitched earlier this year that would have banned unions — like the TEA — from giving money to political candidates has since morphed into a bill that allows corporate campaign giving. Casada, who is sponsoring this bill, too, said he backed off the original plan in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a federal ban on corporate contributions. Instead of imposing a ban on unions, like he originally planned, he wants to lift restrictions on corporate giving and allow legislators and the governor to accept political contributions during the legislative session. That measure is still making its way through House and Senate legislative committees.

TEA Serving on Retirement Board (SB102/ HB565): A measure to take away the Tennessee Education Association’s guaranteed seat on the state’s Consolidated Retirement Board has already passed the Senate and is on its way through the House. Like many other education bills, the Senate vote fell on party lines. The measure allows the Senate and House speakers to appoint any teacher they want to the board, regardless of his or her union affiliation.

Senate Version of Ban on Teacher Collective Bargaining Advances

As expected, Senate Republicans had no trouble approving the latest version of a bill to ban collective bargaining among Tennessee teachers.

The Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 Wednesday to adopt fresh wording requiring school boards to create a policy manual outlining how they’ll determine issues like teachers’ salaries and benefits in an attempt to alleviate concerns about cutting out teacher input.

“This will basically assure statutorily that the door cannot be closed on these teachers and they’ll have the ability to provide that input,” said Sen. Jack Johnson who is spearheading the push to eliminate unions’ ability to negotiate teachers’ working contracts.

The newest incarnation of the bill requires school boards to seek public comment on the policy manuals, which will outline the process for deciding labor issues, including pay rates, benefits, student discipline procedures, working conditions and leaves of absence.

The state Board of Education, Department of Education and Department of Human Resources will all have a hand in developing a sample manual local school systems can adopt.

Democrats remain unsatisfied with the bill, despite the new language. Sen. Andy Berke said the new bill swaps out voices of teachers for input from Nashville “bureaucrats.”

“It would be hard to imagine, but I actually think I like this version of the bill worse than I liked the first one, and believe me I did not think that was possible,” said the Chattanooga lawmaker.

Teachers feel betrayed, according to Tennessee Education Association Lobbyist Jerry Winters, who said the new bill creates “some illusion of input” from teachers.

“We view that no one really is a winner here. Certainly I don’t think school boards are a winner. I know that teachers are not a winner and frankly students are not winners here because what you are doing with this process is taking the biggest advocate for students who are their teachers and actually diminishing, significantly diminishing, their role in policy,” he told the committee.

Berke and the TEA both admit they can’t stop Senate Republicans from voting to ban collective bargaining. But House GOP members have been more skeptical of a repeal and have yet to take up the amendment. The House Finance Ways and Means Committee is set to hear the bill May 3.

The House version allows teachers unions to negotiate scaled-back labor contracts, a concession backed by Speaker Beth Harwell and Gov. Bill Haslam and designed to attract broader support from lawmakers hesitant to delete collective bargaining from state code. Harwell hinted earlier this month that she likes the Senate’s amendment.

Haslam said Wednesday he still hasn’t taken a position on the Senate’s amendment but plans to meet with legislative leaders Thursday to discuss it.

TCPR Appreciative of Speaker Harwell Rescuing House Collective Bargaining Bill

Statement from Justin Owen, President of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, March 30, 2011:

This morning, the House Finance Subcommittee voted 7-6 to pass HB130, the bill to limit collective bargaining by teachers’ unions. Speaker Beth Harwell used her prerogative to cast the tie-breaking vote, keeping the measure alive. Tennessee Center for Policy Research president Justin Owen issued the following statement on the issue, which has received a tremendous amount of attention in the past few weeks.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research has worked since its founding in 2004 to bring about meaningful education reforms in this state that will give parents a seat at the table and children a chance to succeed. As a part of those efforts, since 2009, we have called upon the Tennessee General Assembly to reform our state’s system of teacher collective bargaining, allowing teachers to be paid based on their performance and skills like the professionals they are.

We are therefore grateful for Speaker Beth Harwell’s leadership today in voting to send HB130 to the full House Finance Committee, which ensures that the important discussion of placing limits on collective bargaining continues. But for Speaker Harwell’s tie-breaking vote, we would be talking about the collective bargaining bill that died on the operating table. Fortunately, we still have the opportunity to return control to individual teachers by limiting the teachers union’s ability to stake its claim as the monopoly negotiator in school districts across our state.

This is a very important issue for anyone interested in bucking the status quo that has failed our teachers, our parents, our taxpayers, and most importantly our children, for decades. Collective bargaining is the main weapon used by teachers’ unions to thwart meaningful education reforms in our state. The Tennessee Education Association—the chief lobbying and political arm of the teachers’ unions—has consistently stood in the way of improving our education system.

The TEA has frequently urged lawmakers to press for more “parental involvement” in education. Yet, when a parental choice scholarship bill was proposed just last year to allow parents to choose where to send their children to school, the TEA characterized such measures as “destroying public education,” further attacking school choice advocates like Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, saying they “would be perfectly happy to turn public schools over to some corporation and just let them run them.” This empty rhetoric in defense of the failed status quo has become all too common with the teachers’ unions.

But don’t think the unions oppose every cause on Capitol Hill. While they are always on the wrong side of effective education reforms, the unions believe strongly in other things, such as imposing a state income tax on Tennesseans, a measure they supported during the income tax battle a few years ago. Rather than spend their members’ hard-earned dues on improving education for both teachers and students, they are wasting these resources on a radical political agenda that the vast majority of Tennesseans diametrically oppose.

Our education system is in desperate need of reform, and the collective bargaining legislation voted out of subcommittee today will pave the way for reforms that benefit our teachers, our parents, our taxpayers, and above all, our children. Meaningful education reform should not be left to the whim of one political organization more interested in its own posterity than that of Tennessee’s children.

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research applauds those, including Speaker Harwell, for keeping the education reform dialogue open with their votes today.

– Justin Owen, TCPR President

Naifeh: What Happened to the Jobs Package?

Press Release from Rep. Jimmy Naifeh; March 21, 2011:

Of all weeks to work behind closed doors–last week was “Sunshine Week”–open government, transparency, etc…

This amendment was a compromise between the House Republicans–moderates and Tea Party members. We (House Democrats on Education General Sub Committee) were never invited for input.

This was merely an attempt to satisfy the moderates and Tea Party Republicans.

When you have a true compromise, you have all parties involved; Republicans, Democrats, teachers, TEA, school boards and school directors. You work until you come with a true compromise.

We, the Democrats on the sub-committee, did not receive the amendment until noon for the afternoon meeting. We requested a one week delay because we had not seen this amendment. It was worked out the day before by the Republicans. Our request was not granted by the Republican-controlled committee.

All of the studies show that professional negotiations do not have a negative impact on student achievement.

While unemployment is up in Tennessee, the Republicans are attacking our teachers on all fronts. Professional negotiations, retirement, dues deductions, discussions on the “Monkey Bill”, special school districts, guns, creating currency, immigration and other non-related jobs bills.

What happened to the jobs package??????