Metro Council members are targeting Director of Schools Jesse Register after the superintendent adopted a new policy that appears to curb the influence of support staff unions  during labor negotiations.
Councilman Bo Mitchell of Bellevue plans on introducing a non-binding memorializing resolution Tuesday that would urge the Metro Nashville Board of Education and Register to comply with provisions outlined in the district’s existing labor negotiation policy, established in 2000.
That labor policy created a precedent of “memoranda of understanding” in dealing with the local chapters of the Service Employees International Union and the United Steelworkers, which represents custodians and bus drivers, respectively. Labor leaders have described the agreement as a “meet and confer” policy.
But Register has announced he’s overhauled the MOU union policy, which he claims wasn’t legally binding anyway.
“It is still important to have a positive working relationship with support employees and their representatives, but we will no longer have MOU with unions,” Register said in a January e-mail.
In a letter the previous month, Register cited a new Tennessee law that stripped teachers’ unions of their ability to bargain collectively. “For our future relationship with support employee unions to be mutually beneficial and productive, we must acknowledge the recent changes in state law,” he wrote.
Register said his executive staff voted to rescind the district’s labor negotiation policy.
Mitchell, one of the Metro Council’s leading pro-union voices, said the new state law affecting teachers’ unions isn’t applicable to support staff workers because they are non-certified employees.
“The legislation at the state level last year only dealt with certified employees,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also suggested Register overstepped his bounds by making the decision unilaterally.
“The board of education has had a labor policy since June of 2000,” Mitchell said. “Nothing has changed since then. The board has a policy. The director follows the policy instituted by the board.”
Metro school officials have said Register does in fact have the authority to discontinue the MOU policy based on a 2003 board decision.
Mitchell said his resolution currently has 10 council co-sponsors: Buddy Baker, Brady Banks Fabian Bedne, Chris Harmon, Walter Hunt, Darren Jernigan, Lonnell Matthews Jr., Jerry Maynard, Sandra Moore and Peter Westerholm.
Register’s relationship with Metro’s support staff unions has grown contentious in recent years. Register emerged as an adversary to many union leaders in 2010 when he successfully led the effort to reduce the hours of the district’s bus drivers and outsource its custodial services.
Register said those decisions were made to protect the jobs of teachers.