It is the ambitious education reform agenda of Tennessee’s 107th General Assembly that is causing the [Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union] union’s angst. For the first time in state history, Republicans control the state House and Senate (with comfortable majorities in both), and the governorship. From all appearances, this new slate of lawmakers is serious about reforming the state’s public education system.  Specifically, they seem determined to free the public schools from the grip of teacher unions.

Glen CasadaThe first indication of this came exactly a week after the swearing-in ceremony. On January 18, Rep. Debra Maggart and Rep. Glen Casada unveiled House Bill 130, a measure that would “prohibit any local board of education from negotiating with a professional employees’ organization or teachers’ union concerning the terms or conditions of professional service on or after the effective date of this bill.”

In plain English, HB 130 (and its Senate counterpart, SB 113) would strip teacher unions of the power to collectively bargain with local school boards. If made law, this bill would re-establish Tennessee’s taxpayers and their elected school board representatives as the decision makers for the public schools.

At first glance, a bill to eliminate teacher unions seems like an odd and unnecessary priority for lawmakers in a “right to work” state. But in reality, the “right to work” and the right to collectively bargain are two separate concepts.  “’Right to Work’ means no one can force you to be a union member to have a job,” said Walter Jewell, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  But the right to collectively bargain is another matter entirely.

According to the Tennessean, “The proposed bill would remove all rights and requirements under the current Education Professional Negotiations Act, which gives any person employed by a local board of education … (the right to) join or be assisted by professional employees’ organizations, and to negotiate through representatives of their own choosing.”

Under current law, school boards are legally obligated to collectively bargain with a union that claims to have the support of more than 50 percent of the district’s teachers. At that point, the union can pull up a chair to the bargaining table and negotiate teacher salaries and benefits, working conditions, payroll deductions, student discipline procedures – virtually anything that involves teachers.

“The union serves as a middle man whose job is to sit down and get more and more,” Lee Harrell, director of government and labor relations for the Tennessee School Boards Association, told the Radar.  “What’s in the best interests of the children gets lost,” Harrell said.  With so much power and money at stake, the TEA has developed a reputation as a first-rate bully.  “The teachers who don’t join the union get harassed to the point where most of them just give in,” Jewell said.

Whatever the union’s strategy, it seems to be working.  According to Harrell, 92 of Tennessee’s 136 school districts have been unionized.  “The teacher unions are the only public unions in the state,” Harrell said. “No other public employees in the state have this privilege – not police officers, firefighters, road builders or tax clerks.”

But here’s where things get interesting: Once a union claims to represent the majority of teachers, they have collective bargaining rights. Since teacher unions are private organizations, school boards cannot force them into revealing their membership list, leaving the board with no way to confirm or deny the union’s claim.

“The burden (of proof) is completely on the school board, but there is no accurate way to determine membership,” Harrell said.  School boards are only permitted to challenge a union’s membership claims once every two years, Harrell said.  If a school board decides to challenge the union’s membership numbers, the matter usually ends up in the courts, costing a district thousands in legal fees.  The practical result is that once a union has collective bargaining rights, there’s almost no turning back.

HB 130 would put a stop to this rigged game, and put taxpayers and their duly-elected school board representatives back in control of Tennessee’s public schools.  Teachers would still have the right to form an association, but it would have as much influence over a school’s operations as the local Rotary club. That seems about right to us.

‘This is not an anti-teacher bill’ With its survival in jeopardy, the TEA is gearing up for a huge political fight. Its website warns members “that these bills are very real threats and could pass in the near future.”  Detractors of HB 130 and SB 113 claim that the legislation is “anti-teacher.”

Rep. Maggart, Republican Caucus Chairman and a co-sponsor of HB 130, doesn’t agree.  “This is not an anti-teacher bill,” Maggart told The Tennessean.  “It is an anti-collective bargaining bill. And I think that this bill serves the best interests of our teachers, our students and our school systems across the state.”  The bill would give individual teachers the ability to negotiate directly with their administrators and school board.

Teacher unions claim that unionization is necessary in order for educators to be treated as professionals, but the exact opposite is true. Real professionals want to be recognized and rewarded for their individual performance, whereas the union’s fixation on tenure protection and seniority rules have the effect of treating teachers as indistinguishable and interchangeable workers, no better and no worse than any other.

Current Tennessee law allows unions to impose its collectively-bargained, one-size-fits-all agreement on non-union teachers, whether those teachers want it or not.  “In the long run, we feel this bill would lead to better relationships between school boards and teachers,” Harrell said.

The tip of the iceberg Deep-sixing teachers’ collective bargaining privileges is only one of the education reform bills in the legislative hopper.  Other proposed bills would:

-prohibit “public employees from having a payroll deduction to a political action committee or for dues for membership organizations that use funds for political activities” (HB 159, SB 136);

-make it a “Class C misdemeanor for labor organization(s) to contribute to candidates” (HB 160, SB 139);

-transfer “the authority to appoint the three teacher members who serve on the board of trustees for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) from the Tennessee Education Association to the speaker of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives” (SB 102);

-remove the “specific authority” of the Department of Education “to request assistance for the Tennessee Education Association with matters related to the Volunteer Public Education Trust Fund Act” (HB 144);

-remove the TEA’s “recommendations from consideration by speaker of the House for appointment on the Tennessee financial literacy commission’s board of directors” (HB 145).

The above was excerpted from Tennessee lawmakers want to bring the curtain down on teacher unions By Ben Velderman via Education Action Group.

Representatives Maggart [email protected] and Casada [email protected] or any politician for that matter who takes on the teacher’s union positions themselves to take a lot of abuse.  We must let them know we appreciate their courage and dedication to Tennessee and our children.  Please consider sending Maggart and Casada an e-mail thanking them.  Better yet, send them a few dollars for their next election campaign (every little bit helps-even $5-$25).  You can rest assured the teacher’s union will dump ton’s of money into their opponent’s campaign next election.

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