By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - The Tennessee House of Representatives voted on Thursday to strip teachers unions of most of their collective bargaining powers, setting up a showdown with the state Senate, which already voted to end all union bargaining.
The vote of 59-39 in the House restricts the unions to collective bargaining only on pay and benefits. The bill does not allow collective bargaining on working conditions and matters dealing with performance, such as classroom assignments and bonus pay.
The Senate voted 18-14 on May 1 to repeal a 1978 law that required school boards to engage in collective bargaining with teachers' unions. Instead, all bargaining would be handled by local teachers and their school boards, according to the bill.
The House version now will return to the Senate. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, speaker of the Senate, has said he will take a tough stance in negotiations. A conference committee to try to hammer out a compromise could be held later on Thursday or Friday.
During the emotional debate on the House floor, Republican sponsor Debra Maggart emphasized that teachers are Tennessee's only public workers to have the "privilege" of collective bargaining.
The debate took most of the day, with the Republicans emphasizing over and over the theme that getting rid of collective bargaining would help students.
Democratic foes argued that Maggart's bill "is an attack on teachers."
The Tennessee Education Association, the main teacher's union, opposed the Senate version.
"Clearly they don't need to pass anything," said Jerry Winters, director of government relations for the union. "The negotiations process in this state is working remarkably well.
(Editing by Greg McCune)