Education Featured News

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weaken or derail the bill, but only a few tinkering with technicalities passed — the rest were either tabled or later withdrawn.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.

Education Featured News

McCormick: Collective Bargaining Bill In Trouble

A key House committee on Tuesday threw cold water on efforts to repeal the 1978 Education Professional Negotiations Act, which requires that local Tennessee school districts collectively bargain with teacher unions.

The setback caused one of the chamber’s top Republicans to concede that HB130 is on the ropes this year. Asked if he thinks “the bill is in trouble,” House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick said, “I think so. That is an accurate statement.”

Five House Republicans in the House finance committee broke ranks and voted with Democrats 14-11 to kick HB130 back to the Education Committee, where it already passed back in March.

The Education Committee is currently closed now, although it was reported late Tuesday afternoon that the committee’s chairman, Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, said he’s willing to open it back up to hear the bill.

Nevertheless, time is not on the bill’s side, said McCormick, who added lawmakers are wanting the session over by the end of May.

Furthermore, the bill still isn’t at the point where it can pass the House finance committee, said McCormick — and might, he added, even have trouble on the House floor where Republicans outnumber Democrats 64-34.

“That one has not ripened to the point where we can get more than 50 of our members, or a majority of that committee,” said McCormick, who represents eastern Hamilton County. “It just doesn’t have the votes on the finance committee.”

Democrats, who’ve all year opposed doing away with state-mandated collective bargaining in school districts where teachers unionize, took issue Tuesday with the latest amendment to HB130, which would generally mirror changes made to the Senate’s version. SB113 won approval on the floor 18-14 in the Senate Monday night.

They were joined in their protests by five Republicans, including Rep. Jimmy Eldridge of Jackson, who initiated the call to return the bill — and the new amendment — to the education committee.

Republicans voting with Democrats on the committee included Eldridge, Rep. Scotty Campbell, of Mountain City, Rep. Jim Coley of Bartlett, Rep. Mike Harrison of Rogersville and Rep. Dennis “Coach” Roach of Rutledge.

“There’s some work to be done, some persuasion to be done and the bill’s sponsor will be working on it. She’s a hard worker, and I’m sure she’ll be back next year working on it,” McCormick said after the committee adjourned.

Hendersonville Rep. Debra Maggart, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters immediately after the vote that she did not see the vote as a set back, but rather a move to further vet the bill.

Gov. Bill Haslam weighed in on the bill Tuesday with reporters, saying he was generally in favor of the collective bargaining ban, pending input from the House.

Although the plan is in turmoil, the bill is far from dead. It may yet find its way back to the House finance committee and from there the House floor in some form. There are also a few other seldom used — and difficult to pull off — legislative maneuvers that could advance the bill straight to the House floor, assuming there are enough votes to support it.