House Republicans offer compromise on teachers' collective bargaining issue

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 5:51pm

With nudging from Gov. Bill Haslam, House Republicans agreed Wednesday to end their attempt to strip away all the collective bargaining rights of public school teachers.

Instead, the Republicans offered a compromise in which the teachers’ union, the Tennessee Education Association, could continue to negotiate with school boards over base pay and benefits, but not certain incentive compensation plans or personnel decisions such as school assignments, transfers and layoffs.

Also, the bill now makes it easier for teachers to decertify the TEA as their bargaining agent, requiring the votes of 30 percent rather than 50 percent of those covered by an agreement.

As Democrats complained, Republicans on the House Education Subcommittee approved the amended bill with little debate.

In her remarks to the subcommittee, Rep.  Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, criticized the TEA and promised her bill would “remove politics from the discussion” of public education.

The Senate Education Committee has approved an outright repeal of the 1978 law that gave the teachers’ union the right to negotiate contracts with school districts. But a vote on the Senate floor has been delayed while lawmakers worked on this compromise with House Republicans, many of whom oppose repeal.

Haslam joined House Speaker Beth Harwell in embracing the compromise. Both were instrumental in its development, lawmakers said. The governor had drawn criticism for refusing to give his position on the bill publicly for weeks.

“It gives superintendents greater flexibility in making personnel decisions and supports my central focus of doing what’s best for children in Tennessee classrooms,” Haslam said in a statement after the subcommittee acted. “This legislation doesn’t change the fact that teachers will continue to have a voice on issues like pay and benefits.”

Harwell said that by barring the TEA from negotiating merit pay, the bill would let school boards raise the salaries of teachers for working in low-performing schools. Math and science teachers, who are in short supply, also could receive higher pay, she said.

“This is a good bill for teachers,” Harwell said. “This is an opportunity for teachers who are good to show that they are and to be rewarded for it. This is what we owe the taxpayers of this state. Every taxpayer, every mother, every father in this state deserves to know that who is in front of their child every day is a good teacher.”

Maggart blamed the TEA for Tennessee’s failing schools.

“For years, Tennessee has languished in the lower bracket of states in education,” she said. “We know we have too many failing schools across our state, and our citizens look to us to fix these problems. For too long under the old order, selfish political interests, the unions, have been allowed to dominate the discussion when it comes to setting the course of education in our state. Instead of discussing actual classroom policy and curriculum, our local school boards have constantly been dragged into debates that serve to build union influence and power, not the children we are all supposed to be concerned with. This isn’t a mere political failure. It is a moral failing.”

Outside the hearing room, TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters immediately demanded an apology.

“I was absolutely offended by Representative Maggart’s opening comments,” he said. “She went out of her way to be divisive and say that teachers and our organization had stood in the way of education reform.”

Winters said the TEA would have to review the amendment before deciding whether to oppose it.

“Obviously, we’re pleased that they’re not moving forward with a total repeal of the law,” he said. “That would be the Draconian thing to do. We feel pleased that at least there is some discussion of a middle ground. That discussion was within the Republican caucus. It was not a discussion directly with us. We’re not saying we support the legislation at this point.”

The legislation is part of the new Republican majority’s aggressive agenda to undermine the teachers’ union, critics contend.

Republican lawmakers also have filed bills to unseat TEA representatives from the teachers’ pension-governing board and to end automatic paycheck withdrawals for membership dues for public employee unions. Another bill would ban labor organizations, including the TEA, from giving to political campaigns.

The bills’ sponsors describe their goals as a cost-cutting and altruistic reform of government and politics. But TEA officials contend the legislation is payback for the union’s contributions to Democrats in November’s elections, when Republicans took firm control of the legislature.

The bills have brought protests and counter-protests to the Capitol since the legislative session began in earnest in February. As many as 1,000 TEA supporters marched through Nashville one Saturday as Tea Party activists held their own demonstration in favor of the anti-union bills.

Tuesday, after a large pro-union demonstration at the Capitol, state troopers dragged seven young protesters out of a Senate committee meeting for disrupting the proceedings. They were charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

“This is not some part of a personal agenda or political vendetta,” said Maggart, chair of her party’s House political caucus. “This legislation allows each of us to reach higher for the benefit of all. This legislation promotes accountability in our education system because it encourages the highest performing teachers and rewards them for the amazing work they do.”

Democrats called on the subcommittee to wait a week to vote on the bill, since the amendment was made public only during Wednesday’s meeting. But Republicans said they were intent on moving forward.

“I’ve never seen anything more political than what has been going on in the first few weeks of this legislature, and I am sick and tired of it,” Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, said.


13 Comments on this post:

By: mickeyw on 3/16/11 at 9:05

"Haslam joined House Speaker Beth Harwell in embracing the compromise. Both were instrumental in its development, lawmakers said. " did anyone expect better from a Bunch of self serving politicians?

By: wchadwel on 3/17/11 at 6:46

So two-thirds of teachers covered by an agreement can favor it and the union still be de-certified. Odd idea of democracy among the those on the right.

By: gdiafante on 3/17/11 at 7:04

Any GOP legislator who says this isn't a political vendetta and the ultimate goal is to abolish collective bargaining rights is a liar.

All this "compromise" (is it really a compromise if debate isn't allowed?) does is illustrate that the Governor doesn't want Tennessee to end up a PR mess like Wisconsin.

And, I think it's childish and simplistic to blame the state of education solely on teachers. How about parents? How about society in general, that values celebrity and bad behavior much more so than academics? How about politicians, who seem to think if you throw money at something, it will suddenly improve?

How about taxpayers who whine and complain about any expenditure (see my previous point about society) as if they are being oppressed to the point of slavery?

This entire situation is the theater of the absurd.

By: Antisocialite on 3/17/11 at 7:54

This is not a compromise at all, a compromise requires there to have been some kind of negotiation between the two parties. If anything it is a compromise between Haslam and his Congressional allies so he can spare himself the heat that Gov. Walker has been taking up in Wisconsin. Anyone who denies that this is a partisan attack that has very little to do with the good of the state is simply not paying attention. How else can you explain a bill that would decertify the TEA despite a 70% approval rating? Do these representatives hold themselves to the same standard... absolutely not, these are the same people who claim a 'mandate' when they garner little more than half the vote, there is a word for people like that... HYPOCRITES.

By: govskeptic on 3/17/11 at 9:12

Since the former Speaker has made it onto TV again showing his
outrage must mean it was the right thing to do. The children as well
as the "good and professionally interested teachers" will all benefit
from these changes. The TEA, SEIU, and AFL-CIO may not like
the direction, but it's the right one for public education!

By: gdiafante on 3/17/11 at 9:15

How so, gov? And please, do not list Fox News talking points.

By: JeffF on 3/17/11 at 10:08

The MNEA set this in motion a few years ago when they forced Metro to decline a large grant that would pay bonuses to teachers who exceed in teaching at historically underperforming and failing schools. Many people warned them that their friends in power in the capital were not going to be there forever. Not all teachers deserve to be held back to MNEA impossed pay levels, there are many who exceed at the difficult and DESERVE to be rewarded and held up above their "peers".

My only hope for additional legislation is the ending of paycheck deductions for union dues. A union should have to sell itself to potential members by making them write a check to cover their dues.

It is inherently wrong to have public taxpayer money get funneled into elections by laundering it through union dues.

By: AmyLiorate on 3/17/11 at 2:00

GDIA, if this is a political vendetta then does that mean it is rooted in prior political playground antics?

Can we step back and look at both sides and see that the TEA and other unions have used their weight as political capital to go against lawmakers in the past?

I'm not saying that two wrongs make a right, but there is an angle that the pendulum has swung too far in one direction and it it just returning back toward the middle where it would rest if there were no outside forced pushing.

I've talked with former Peterbilt union members and they said the union had done them wrong. They were actually going to protest on the side against the union.

Another guy I talked to was a union steward, and he said the unions and OSHA have gone too far. They have so many regulations that his belief is the workplace is not as safe as it once was.

Some things to consider. Cheers!

By: AmyLiorate on 3/17/11 at 2:01

forces/not forced

By: pswindle on 3/17/11 at 6:48

Maggart,, who does she think she is? She doesn't have a clue abou teaching or the TEA. We have to remember her the next time we go to vote and Terri Lynmn Weaver,stoo.

By: SargeE5 on 3/18/11 at 8:37

Bravo Debra Maggart!!! It didn't surprise me when at the urging of Gov. Bill Haslam, the House of Representatives folded up like cheap lawn chairs to the pressure of the TEA. I had a feeling that would happen after speaking with Mark Pody at the Lebanon meeting of the Wilson County TEA Party. We have some representatives in the House that are excellent, then of course there are the others who somehow forgot how to take a stand for the people, the taxpayers who elected them. Perhaps they are hoping for union support come re-election time.
Fortunately we still have Ron Ramsey in the state Senate, he has the guts to support the Tennessee taxpayer on this collective bargaining issue. Ron knows why he is in the Senate, and compromise with the TEA and the NEA is not the reason he was elected.
The Watchman

By: pswindle on 3/18/11 at 10:17

SargeE5, Do you know any teachers? If not, keep your mouth shut. Maggart needs a one way ticket home and she will get one at the next election if she is not recalled first. Without collective bargaining, the teachers would still be struggling with 40 students per class and no benefits at all. What kind of benefits do you have? The crazy talking points of the GOP are really gettting old. They have no basis on what they say or do.

By: mg357 on 3/18/11 at 11:10

Does anyone here happen to remember the exact amount of funding to the Dems this year from the teachers unions? Think you're getting your money's worth now?