By Randy O’Brien
Special to The Press
Nashville – The state Legislature will soon debate bills that would force major changes in the way teachers are represented in negotiations with school boards, and in how their membership dues are collected. The measures would also prohibit collective bargaining by teachers.
Jerry Winters, director of government relations and chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), says the new laws are an attack on Tennessee teachers.
“These bills are an attack on the rights of teachers to collectively have a voice on implications of their jobs, and it’s just really an attack on the organization. It has nothing to do with trying to move education forward in this state.”
Some school board members and other supporters of the changes say financial pressures and the need to improve standardized test scores require more flexibility in dealing with teachers. The proposed laws would prohibit payroll deduction of dues for public employees and make it illegal for TEA’s political action committee to make contributions to any candidate for office.
Ultimately, Winters says, public opinion will direct the course of the debate.
“We view this as just a frontal assault on the rights of teachers to organize and have a collective voice, and I think the public is going to engage themselves in this debate, too. No one likes to see bullies in the Legislature trying to push teachers around.”
Supporters of eliminating collective bargaining include the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Tennessee Business Roundtable.
Opponents say the teachers’ union has done more than just push pay issues; it also works for issues such as smaller class sizes.