Tennessee legislature votes to limit teachers union role

Reuters News
Posted: May 21, 2011 11:13 AM
Tennessee legislature votes to limit teachers union role

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - The Tennessee House of Representatives approved a bill late on Friday that curbs collective bargaining for teachers.

The House's 55-40 vote after 11 p.m. echoed the Senate's 19-12 approval earlier in the evening of a compromise measure that keeps elements of collective bargaining, but with strict limits, and replaces union negotiations with what instead is called "collaborative conferencing."

The bill will now go to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

The collaborative conferencing procedure will involve a hashing out of problems between school boards and representatives elected by the teachers in secret ballot.

The Tennessee Education Association could be elected to serve in the collaborative conferencing groups, but not in the formal negotiating role.

The final version of the legislation reflected a conference committee compromise forced after the House Thursday voted to restrict teachers unions to collective bargaining only on pay and benefits. That legislation did not allow union negotiations on working conditions and matters dealing with performance, such as classroom assignments and bonus pay.

The senate had voted earlier to repeal a 1978 state law that required school boards to engage in collective bargaining with unions.

The final version going to the governor allows the TEA to continue as the main representation for teachers in the state.

But teachers aren't required to be represented by a union and could choose another form of representation. Tennessee already is a right to work state, and no union membership is mandated.

Representative Gary Moore, a Democrat, said the final bill was simply a new way to reword the Senate version that essentially leaves unions by the wayside.

"My mother told me you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. This is nothing but a sow's ear," he said.

Jerry Winters, the TEA's government relations director, noted the new bill also takes away payroll deductions for union dues. "That's directed right at us," he said.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)