State Senate leaders rejected a compromise backed by the governor and vowed Thursday to press ahead with their attempt to repeal the collective bargaining rights of public school teachers.
With the Tea Party demanding that lawmakers stand firm against the teachers’ union, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey issued a strong statement in support of legislation to end collective bargaining.
It’s the first time Ramsey and Haslam have butted heads since Haslam defeated the Senate speaker in last August’s Republican gubernatorial primary.
“Last November, Tennesseans issued a mandate to the Republican majority to institute bold and meaningful education reform,” Ramsey said. “Senator Jack Johnson’s bill to outlaw locking taxpayers into funding union contracts is a prime example of the kind of reform Tennesseans have requested. The Senate remains committed to answering the call of the voters and hope[s] to ultimately see this reform reflected in the law.”
Memphis Tea Party leader Mark Skoda, meanwhile, denounced the deal on the bill that was brokered by House Speaker Beth Harwell and unveiled Wednesday.
Under the House proposal, the teachers’ union — the Tennessee Education Association — could continue to negotiate with various state 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 signatures of 30 percent rather than 50 percent of those covered by an agreement.
Skoda called the TEA “a slush fund” for Democrats and criticized Haslam for failing to follow the lead of governors in Wisconsin, Florida and elsewhere who have acted aggressively to undermine teachers’ unions.
“Haslam has shown no leadership in this matter,” Skoda said. “The other governors who have stood up on this issue are on the side of the people. This is exactly what we expected Beth Harwell to do. It’s regrettable. The Tea Party certainly will challenge this. We need to make our voices heard.”
Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood, said Thursday he won’t accept the House compromise, at least not immediately. He said he will try to enact an outright repeal of collective bargaining in the Senate. If the House adopts the compromise bill, “we’ll see what happens after that,” he said.
“I hope to pass my bill, a clean bill, in the Senate,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to give up any ground right now. It’s too early. We will see. It’s the legislative process and, at the end of the day, we need a bill. But I would prefer the full repeal.”
Johnson said he is uncertain when he will present his bill on the Senate floor. The Senate Education Committee already has approved it.
“It boils down to whether you philosophically believe in public-sector collective bargaining. I don’t,” Johnson said. “I would not support collective bargaining in any regard for public-sector employees because you’re pitting a union against the taxpayer.”
House Democrats complained again that the amendment was sprung on them in the education subcommittee Wednesday. It was approved with little debate on a party-line vote.
“That’s honestly the first time I’d seen it. It took a while to figure that thing out,” said House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. “We did not have the time to prepare.”
“We were agonizing,” said Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington. “We wanted to know what that amendment did. They were going to vote us down anyway.”