Register hammered over union policy, doesn't plan to retreat

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 11:45pm

State Democratic lawmakers, labor leaders and even a few Metro parents ripped Director of Schools Jesse Register’s stance on unions Tuesday night, delivering blow after blow to a superintendent they say unilaterally closed the door on support staff workers.

On Valentine’s Day, many of the some 200 union supporters who overflowed Metro’s school board meeting held red placards that read, “Have a heart.” As it stands, they fear custodians, groundskeepers and bus drivers have lost a voice inside Nashville’s public schools.

“We want our employees out here to have the same rights that other Metro employees have had,” Democratic state Rep. Mike Turner of Old Hickory told Register and school board members.

“Nashville is unique in this country. It has never had a lot of labor management troubles. There is no need to start this now.”

At issue is Register’s recent decision to do away with the district’s 12-year-old “memoranda of understanding” policy in dealing with the Service Employees International Union, which represents custodians and groundskeepers, and the United Steelworkers union, comprised of school bus drivers. 

Union leaders have called the MOU agreement a “meet and confer” policy. But Register scrapped the non-binding statute by adopting a new Support Staff Handbook, a move the district claims is authorized. Others say he overreached his power.

“If you want to change the handbook, there’s no reason not to meet with employee representatives and discuss this,” said Deborah Dial, a Metro high school support staff worker.

“You discuss things with parent groups. You discuss things with business groups. You discuss things with educational groups,” Dial said. “So why can’t you do it with the people who actually make the school run?”

Despite such pleas, Register indicated he doesn’t plan to change his position on support staff unions. “At this point in time, no,” he told reporters following a lengthy public hearing.

Register also took time to “clarify” his position, adding that he’s concerned about all the “misinformation” about the district’s practices. Contrary to accusations, he said, employees aren’t required to reapply for positions at the end of the school year.

“This is not an issue with our employees or how we feel about our employees,” Register said. “We value our employees. With think they’re very important.

“It’s a matter of operating procedures where we had an old employee handbook and two MOUs –– one with the steelworkers and one with SEIU,” he said. “They just weren’t compatible. We had ineffective practices as a result of that.”

Register’s relationship with support staff unions has been strained since 2010 when he led the outsourcing of more than 600 custodians and reduction of hours for bus drivers. Mayor Karl Dean, the Metro Council and school board approved those same measures.

The nine-member school board is the one body that could presumably direct Register to change his MOU stance, but if it would do so is unclear.

School board vice chair Mark North said he “appreciates [union supporters] coming to us” and that he wants to ensure district officials “treat all of our employees with respect and appreciation.”

Still, asked whether the board would take a vote to change Register’s union policy, North said, “I don’t know.”

Tuesday’s school board came one week after the Metro Council voted 29-5 to urge Register to comply with provisions outlined in the district’s labor negotiation policy, established in 2000, a document in which the MOU policy is written.

Council members who attended Tuesday’s board meeting were Fabian Bedne, Karen Johnson, Jason Potts, Brady Banks and Scott Davis. Conservative Councilman Steve Glover was also there, telling Register that he was fully within his bounds to change the MOU policy.

Louder presence, however, came from Nashville’s state House Democrats. Turner, as well as Reps. Brenda Gilmore and Gary Moore, delivered remarks to the board on behalf of unions. Democratic state Rep. Mike Stewart was also in attendance.

Gilmore noted how Register has seemingly taken a new Tennessee law that stripped teachers’ unions of their ability to collectively bargain, and applied it to support staff leaders.

“The intent of that legislation does not affect support employees,” Gilmore said. “It affects licensed, professional employees only.”

• In other business, the school board voted to renew the district’s contract with Teach For America, the national teacher recruitment program that turns young, idealistic college graduates into teachers in low-performing schools.

Under the new agreement, Metro has agreed to double the number of TFA teachers who enter Metro classes from 50 to a maximum of 80 to 100.

29 Comments on this post:

By: Loner on 2/15/12 at 6:23

Music City is now Scab's a race to the bottom and Nashville is leading the pack to strip workers of all meaningful rights. An ebbing tide lowers all boats.

TN is a a theocratic state...apparently Jesus, was a scab carpenter who loathed the idea of collective bargaining...apparently Mr. Sessions and the Metro Council worship the "Scab Jesus"....a modified version of the standard Jesus.

By: nashwill on 2/15/12 at 6:25

It is sad when our lawmakers either are ignorant of the laws they are responsible for or intentionally lie for their own political purposes. As Representative Gilmore should know, teachers were the only public employees who had the right to bargain collectively. Support staff never had that right. That is why they had an MOU and not a contract. Her grandstanding was based on a false premise.

By: djarrell on 2/15/12 at 6:25

“This is not an issue with our employees or how we feel about our employees,” Register said. “We value our employees. With think they’re very important.

No raise for 5 years important.

By: LordInfamous on 2/15/12 at 6:34

Look what happened to Chattanooga under Register.....

By: Ask01 on 2/15/12 at 7:26

Unions are often blamed for many of the nations ills, but let us not forget they once served a useful purpose standing up to unscrupulous business owners, advocating safer working conditions, decent wages, and other protections enjoyed by todays workers.

Do they, unions, still serve a purpose? They can, ensuring corporate America and greedy business owners do not create a class of serfs by dismantling the protections crafted over so many years. So long as unions function in good faith and receive the same from management, there is no reason they should not exist, even if only to provide a warm, fuzzy security blanket for workers.

From this stance, I am always supicious and aprehensive when any employer talks of altering union agreements. Particularly when done in a unilateral manner, offering and accepting no negotiation.

Doctor Register needs to reconsider his stance. If he feels a need to alter a long standing agreement, even a 'gentleman's agreement' (almost an oxymoron in this day, as the erosion of morales, ethics, and the concept of fair play rots society's very fabric,) he needs to include everyone involved in an open, public discussion.

Unless he harbors some ulterior motive. Perhaps angling for the ability to fire workers or slash pay and/or benefits without some pesky union demanding accountability.

Doctor Register has the opportunity to unite people, addressing problems facing our schools together, but this is not the way.

But he has established a base position of bad faith. Not an auspicious start, in my opinion.

By: Moonglow1 on 2/15/12 at 7:56

Moonglow1: Where was Dr. Register educated? Where does he worship? He is no man of God, no compassion for the poor. He "values" his employees by stripping them of their rights. This is a slap in the face to all Americans.

Obviously he is a Republican Tea Nut champion of the 1%. We all know that support workers do not earn six figures and may be close to the poverty line. In Republican speak, the poor have no rights, thus the fervor to purge their right to have union representation.

"Dr. Register" has formally registered his contempt for the working class citizens of the State of Tennessee. He is an ego driven Tea Nut robot following his party line. This mean no rights for the working class.

Occupy Nashville: rise up to support these workers. There must be something you can do. Expose Register to the national media. Shine the light for all to see.

Unions: Thank them for:

40 hour work week
Overtime pay
Pay for holiday's
Sick leave
Child labor laws
Many other rights we take for granted

Vote Republican and watch your rights your freedom vanish

Do not let these Godless Creatures unilaterally make decisions that curtail your rights, your ability to work.

Honorable men honor contracts

By: hattrick3 on 2/15/12 at 8:28

Unions had their time and their time has passed. Nashville public schools have been the second worse school system in the state for the past decade, second to only Memphis. Both of these cities are ran by Democrats. Good for Dr. Register.

Question: What excatly have the janitors lost in this?

By: spooky24 on 2/15/12 at 8:30

Doctor Register is the director of MNPS and was just granted a contract extension for his efforts. Legally, he has the right to make these changes in the MOU policy. It's only a matter of time before other school services are outsourced as taxpayers want their tax money used in the most efficient way. Transportation and food services will soon follow the way of custodial support and be turned over to vendors who can provide better service at lower cost to the taxpayer-therefore more budget money would be available for more direct student services.
Nationwide there is solid irrefutable data that shows outsourcing such services saves money and improves the overall accountability of such services.


By: Ask01 on 2/15/12 at 8:52

The question goes beyond the janitors, although still a pertinent inquiry. The true, the more relevant question is, with unions weakened or eradicated, which I believe is the ultimate goal, what will you lose? What will all of us lose?

True enough, government has stepped in to regulate businesses, assuming the role of unions in some cases, but I wonder if such would be the case had unions not taken the lead, exposing problems and organizing worker?. By the same token, most small and locally owned businesses, at least, treat their workers fairly, but again, I wonder how many, especially large nationwide employers would revert to exploitative practices without the threat of unions?

I view unions as a modern day Sword of Damocles, hanging by a hair above every employer large and small, private or public.

Unions still serve a function. Any attempt to weaken, nullify, or eradicte these organizations should be viewed as an attempt to weaken individual rights, as unions can often accomplish more than a lone citizen acting alone, akin to a David and Goliath scenario.

A bit of pointless rambling follows, be warned. I have often heard people whispering about how 'The Owner,' (as if some demigod) had threatened to shut down a business if he even heard the word union. I could not help but muse if there existed the intestinal fortitude to carry through. After all, such a move puts the owner out of business, unemployed in a sense, as well as the employees. Of course, I suppose there are those with suicidal tendencies out there. I wonder what would happen if employees called the bluff? Could be fun.

By: Moonglow1 on 2/15/12 at 8:58

Moonglow1: this idea that For Profit companies can provide better value govt services is not correct. There are so many instances where "outsourced" contractors have de frauded the govt.

By: Left-of-Local on 2/15/12 at 9:01

Damn, I can't wait till the school selection process is over, and I no longer feel like some goons from MNPS will block my kid from a good school.

I look forward to hitting Register, and any other jackass over there who views the world from inside their own colon, a negative PR beatdown.

By: Ask01 on 2/15/12 at 9:05

Spooky24, I will agree outsourcing can lower costs, but I have to question, over the long term, how well this tactic plays out beyond the bottom line. I'm old school, I suppose, no pun intended, but I can recall the schools I attended had the same custodial staff during my stay. They were known to most everyone and arguably were better liked than even the principal. They were there for almost every school function and could always ask for help from say, the football players or JROTC unit when needed. Perhaps I am in the minority, but there is a certain almost familial quality, a sense of community, if you will, which I cannot see developing with contract workers.

Just my humble opinion.

By: pswindle on 2/15/12 at 9:45

Dr. Register is slowly but surely destroying the school system. This is what the GOP wants. They have been pushing Chapter Schools and vouchers even under Bush. They want to do away with public schools because they give everyone a fair chance at a good education.
The school board hired Register and now they have the opportunity to pay him out and get rid of him before he can do more damage. He is doing the dirty work for Haslam. When the Unions are gone, the employees are at the mercy of bad treatment. Register does not want anyone to know what they are really up to. They want the employees to work in fear of their job and this affects the students.
I hope the people of TN wakes up and see what the GOP is doing to our great citizens of TN and most importantly to our studens.

By: Balo on 2/15/12 at 9:57

This is a very sad state of affairs. On one hand, the Director has lost control of the ideals that drive an organization. He shows a very strong lack of respect for his support staff and maybe most important he does not honor them. It is an absolute for a leader to show honor and respect to your organization and as a result the job will get done at a high level, regardless of some MOU. If the question is asked, who do you want to be in a foxhole with you? The answer is not this Director.

On the second hand, the Board's response is nothing. Like all politicians they must check the direction of the wind before a response. A very sad state and this Board is without courage and conviction.

By: tdterry1999 on 2/15/12 at 10:12

I don't like the unions.But once The manangment though the union was gone they started running around telling the workers that they can fire them for any reason.So I now see a need for the union.With that being said,the unions needs to get out of Politics.They sent out a e-mail asking for donations to help Elizabeth Warren get elected in Massachusetts.

By: artsmart on 2/15/12 at 10:38

People try once to look at the whole picture and not just the parts you want to blame.
Register could easily be stopped from doing these thing if the Board would just stand up. I guess they are all tea party or Republicans. I wonder if in any year the people on Bransford have done without raises? What party is to blame if they have gotten raises every year and teachers and support staff have not. Our Government is broken top to bottom and until we demand that they all be held accountable they will never care. Metro schools is going to start a good old boy purge of teachers and then the best paid.
Then they will have an excuse that the teachers do not have enough experience. They are not interested in school excellence they are interested in Kingdom building.

By: tdterry1999 on 2/15/12 at 10:44

arts hate to tell you this,but it's not only the republicans.

By: hattrick3 on 2/15/12 at 11:54

Again I'll ask the question....What excatly do the janitors lose in this?

By: artsmart on 2/15/12 at 12:17

tdterry: that was the point I was trying to make. This constant arguement that one party is wrong and one is right is just nonsense. The government is broken period.

By: think on 2/15/12 at 1:56

Unions served a purpose 100 years ago, but if you want to honestly make an argument that they are necessary to protect workers in world with OSHA, Social Security, labor laws, thousands of self-employed lawyers and the media, then you are probably one of the few that actually benefit from them.

Unions protect the low-performing workers at the expense of the high-performing workers and the consumers. People should be rewarded if they are good at their job and if they are a terrible fit, someone else should be given an opportunity to succeed where they failed.

As for outsourcing these services, it is a disservice to the students and the tax payers to overpay for these basic services. "Scabs" are people with families too, only they realize that they deserve to be paid for the value that they add rather than because of the organization they belong to. The government has a fiduciary duty to provide the highest quality service at the lowest price possible. They are responsible for answering to the tax payers, not large political organizations that care about nothing but the interest of their own participants.

I'm proud that Register is brave enough to stand up to the inevitable firestorm that arises whenever you go toe-to-toe with the unions. Hopefully the students win in the end because the good Lord knows that the status quo isn't doing right by them.

By: Ask01 on 2/15/12 at 2:05

By: hattrick3 on 2/15/12 at 11:54
Again I'll ask the question....What excatly do the janitors lose in this?

An excellent question. As to what excatly(sic) the janitors lost, I have to rely on second hand information, which I identify as such up front. Besides the benefits I understand they lost, when the custodial staff were released from metro and hired on with the contractors, most, again relying on my informant, took pay cuts. I can't give you a dollar figure, or much further on what was lost, as the info isn't included in the story and I've already divulged all I know about the financial end.

The real irritant for most people is, I believe, the possibility Dr. Register could decide to ignore all agreements with other unions, particularly the weaker groups.

I didn't used to care much for unions, but have recently begun to recognize the value they bring to society keeping management and businesses honest and fair when dealing with workers.

By: pswindle on 2/15/12 at 2:49

The support employees work as hard as any in the school system, but the least paid and respected. Register is wrong and he is nothing but a bully with the help of Dean and Haslam. He worked harder than anyone to remove the unions. Now, no one can stop him. He is the King of the Hill.

By: Moonglow1 on 2/15/12 at 5:12

Moonglow1: The question we need to ask is "what data can Register provide to quantify the Republican mantra that contractors do a better job than the government can do?"

Although a private contractor cuts wages, the contractor always increases management salaries and often will engage in questionable accounting practices generally culminating in an investigation at public expense.

Sound familiar. Yet most of you cannot see the connection.

By: Daisycutter47 on 2/16/12 at 6:53

Hey, Moonglow1... Let's look at your comment..."Obviously he is a Republican Tea Nut champion of the 1%...In Republican speak, the poor have no rights, thus the fervor to purge their right to have union representation." You have no idea how wrong you are.

Granted that Register pretty much sucks at just about any level as Director of Metro Schools. Granted that he ruined Chattanooga schools. But it is also true that unions have served their purpose and it's time for them to move into the dust bin of history.

You assume that all of these folks are poor. You should know what assuming things does. I have known many of these very folks who you are championing as "poor". They have all lived in respectable homes, driven nice vehicles, and none of them are on food stamps. Come on, stop placing these folks in the "poor" category. Many of them earn more than teachers.

But your biggest goof of all is saying that, "Obviously he is a Republican Tea Nut champion of the 1%..." Jesse Register was the CHAIRMAN of the Nashville Inaugural Ball for the newly elected President, Barack Hussein Obama in January 2009. Believe me, no Republican would ever do such a thing. Your buddy Jesse is a hard-core, practicing Democrat.

By: Rasputin72 on 2/16/12 at 7:31

I see the unions as a hedge against the unsophistication,lack of education and just plain stupidity for the huddled masses. A union for a teacher is just plain ridiculous. I do understand some of the isssues of Metro teacher. If I were a Metro teacher I would want an armed policeman in my classroom to keep order and to wake up those that snooze during class so they will not miss their next class.

By: govskeptic on 2/16/12 at 8:55

Since Mr. Register has developed the very best way to run the system why
should he consider backing down now.? These Union members that want
to squabble about everything, complain and want to argue about what time
it is does not service the interest of students at all. Only interest is themselves!

By: san r on 2/16/12 at 10:24

i don't trust these people but still i must ask the question, WHERE was the union over the last decade when public schools took a fatal turn for possible takeover and closure?
it may seem like these actors are enemies but i see it as a game of deception with none of them or their cronies losing anything and the befuddled taxpayers losing everything.

By: govskeptic on 2/16/12 at 4:30

Hammered by a whining liberal press, yes. Supported by a majority of our City's
taxpayer's another Yes.

By: pswindle on 2/16/12 at 4:32

Register was waiting for the GOP to have total control over TN. That way he could do the dirty work that he longed for. Dean has been no help at all to the teachers, etc.