30 Mar Collective Bargaining Bill Advances in House, Teachers Not Completely Satisfied (TN)

March 30, 2011

By: The Associated Press
Source: The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association said Wednesday he’s not completely satisfied with a proposal that would restrict the collective bargaining rights of Tennessee teachers, but is grateful they still have an opportunity to bargain.

The measure sponsored by House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Ma ggart of Hendersonville advanced to the House Education Committee after being approved 8-5 in the education subcommittee.

The measure was amended to incorporate certain restrictions instead of eliminating collective bargaining altogether. The companion bill is waiting to be scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor.

Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said he’s pleased total elimination was avoided, but is unhappy with new provisions of the legislation, such as removing principals from the negotiating process and ending bargaining on differential pay plans and other incentive compensation.

He said removing principals makes them "more vulnerable," and that the association will try to find a way to represent their interests if the legislation passes this session.

"We may even want to look at some point down the road of having negotiations for principals," he said. "But they don’t need to be out there without a voice."

Winters noted that teachers will still be able to negotiate salaries and benefits.

"I’m very appreciative of the fact that it’s not a repeal," he said. "That’s huge progress."

However, Winters took offense to comments Maggart made before the vote that the Tennessee Education Association had gotten in the way of education reform in Tennessee.

Winters later told reporters that the association has been "more than cooperative in trying to make this state eligible for a huge amount of money," referring to the $500 million Tennessee won in the national Race to the Top education grant competition.

He demanded Maggart apologize to teachers and the association, but she later said she didn’t think one was necessary and that she is not bad-mouthing teachers.

"I don’t believe I owe them an apology," she said. "My mother was a first grade teacher and I love teachers."

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters after a tour of the Tennessee Technology Center in Nashville that he wanted to focus on changing key elements of teachers’ collective bargaining rather than do away with it entirely.

After the vote, the Republican governor issued a statement in support of the new version of the bill.

"It gives superintendents greater flexibility in making personnel decisions and supports my central focus of doing what’s best for children in Tennessee classrooms," he said. "This legislation doesn’t change the fact that teachers will continue to have a voice on issues like pay and benefits."

Haslam and Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville had been criticized by tea partiers for not standing more firmly behind eliminating collective bargaining altogether.

At a recent tea party rally at the state Capitol, participants urged lawmakers not to waver on the original intent of the bill. Former Republican congression al candidate Lou Ann Zelenik of Murfreesboro urged tea partiers to speak out against "week-kneed, wobbly" lawmakers.

"I would rather the bill fail than to compromise," she said.

Nevertheless, Republican leaders said they view the legislation that passed the House subcommittee as a victory.

"This is going to make it possible for our teachers in this state to have the option of another organization to represent them, and that’s a good thing for teachers," Harwell said.

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