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.

  • Joe Cocchini

    While private sector unions have made enormous, positive historic contributions to modern working conditions, public sector unions are a constitutional aberration in which, as with the infamous Supreme Court ruling in which some citizens were found to be “more equal” than others, public sector employees are given rights to effectively rule over their fellow citizens without the benefit of elections or appointment. They are further given unequal and unfair access to public funds through the use of collective bargaining, an asset not possessed by their fellow citizens. There is no constitutionally (state or federal) lawful reason why public sector unions should have been permitted at the outset, and less reason for the retraction of unequal rights such as collective bargaining to be allowed to remain. The entire notion is an aberrant political construct, built outside of the letter and spirit of foundational and common law, carried on the backs of its fellow citizens.

    And I do mean that in the nicest possible way.

  • http://christiangrantham.com Christian

    Joe, I think if we’re going to deny public servants like teachers an employment guarantee through collective bargaining, then we should deny the guarantee and entitlement politicians enjoy as a full term in office. Let’s amend the state’s recall law (T.C.A. 2-5-151) to include state elected officials like 17 other states do. Tennessee voters have shown great prudence in their exercise of the state’s recall law, and no lawmaker has ever tried to repeal it. It works for county officials. let’s empower the voter to fire state elected officials as well. If teachers can get fired, then voters ought to have the right to fire politicians who lie in the interview process to get their job. If anyone deserves employment guarantees in government, it’s teachers, police, firefighters and first responders, not politicians like Rep. Debra Maggart.

  • http://christiangrantham.com Christian

    And I mean that is the nicest possible way 🙂

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  • TC

    With respect Christian, you are wrong. In the private sector, unions bargain with owners to redistribute company profits. Governments make no profit. The only thing government workers bargain for is more tax dollars which they use to elect the government officials they bargain with. If you’re a candidate you want the votes and campaign contributions from the (teachers) unions. The problem arises when these politicians sit down to bargain over the pay and working conditions with the very unions who helped to elect them. Further, it is through political patronage, not collective bargaining that the teachers unions protect their members – from competition. It is through collective bargaining the teacher’s unions prevent any meaningful education reform. The TEA minimize competition by using their resources to influence the election of sympathetic school board members and members of state legislatures or to gain political influence. Therefore, the current legislation will serve to break this anti-trust power brokering between politicians and the teachers union and return control to the tax payers, individual teachers and their employers and parents and away from teachers unions and the politicians beholding to them. Ending collective bargaining would allow teachers to be paid based on their performance and skills, treating them as professionals, allowing districts to better value and compensate top quality teachers. Union influence and power has resulted in exponentially increasing the cost of education for taxpayers yet providing virtually no improvements to the quality of education.

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