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House, Senate Republicans Working Toward Anti-Collective Bargaining Compromise

by Andrea Zelinski on April 25, 2011

House GOP leaders are still laboring over the latest Senate addition to the collective bargaining repeal this week and say they want to put their own fingerprint on the plan before advancing the legislation.

Publicly at least, the House is taking a break from collective bargaining debates for the rest of the month as they huddle over versions of the plan to repeal teachers unions’ power to negotiate labor contracts.

“We’re looking at ways to take the Senate amendment, which is a good first step, and add a little bit of our own thoughts to it,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell, who previously sided with a version of the bill that would have kept a limited amount of collective bargaining intact.

The amendment to SB113 was crafted by Sen. Jack Johnson, a Franklin Republican who has championed a strict repeal of collective bargaining powers among Tennessee teachers despite hesitance from some House Republicans.

He plans to put the measure before the full Senate Thursday, despite whatever changes House Republicans have in the works.

“I’m open to about anything as long as it’s a complete repeal of the negotiations act from ‘78, and as long as it allows for no collective bargaining union-negotiated contracts whatsoever, and that it does not exclude any teacher or teacher organization from having input with the school board,” said Johnson, who added he’s optimistic he’ll have enough votes in the House and Senate.

Harwell, the most powerful Republican in the House, said she likes Johnson’s addition of requiring teachers’ involvement and input but said “bottom floor” issues like merit and differential pay shouldn’t even be a topic of debate.

“Another example would be the evaluation process. That’s not subject to whether teachers like it or not. We need to have evaluations in place,” Harwell told TNReport.

The end result will likely be a combination of the House and Senate versions, Harwell said. When asked for specifics, she added that she and sponsor Debra Maggart, the House GOP’s caucus chairwoman from Hendersonville, are still hammering out ideas for their chamber’s amendments. Those issues would be woven into the Senate amendment mandating school boards adopt policies outlining how they hammer out labor issues, Maggart said.

The Tennessee Education Association, which has doggedly fought against any change in the collective bargaining law, opposes all those amendments on the table but doesn’t have much leverage to fight them.

Their allies, mostly Democrats, are outnumbered in both chambers. The TEA’s last line of defense is hoping there are enough Republicans in the House unwilling to go along with a full repeal.

The Tennessee School Boards Association, the original architect of the collective bargaining ban, is OK with the latest rewrite, which would require them to develop public policy manuals dictating how they set policy on issues like pay, benefits, leaves of absence, working conditions and student discipline, according to the group’s lobbyist.

“We’re not trying to catch anybody off guard. We’re not trying to go around or sneak around with anybody. We want all the teachers to know what we expect of them, what they should expect of us,” said Lee Harrell, TSBA’s lobbyist at the Capitol.

The problem with the current system, said Harrell, is that teachers who don’t join the union now have no voice in the future of their work contracts. Union representatives don’t represent all teachers in a district, he said.

“If they want the process going exactly the way it is now, then it will. They’ll still have their association reps that will express their opinions, express their concerns for them,” Harrell said.

“However, if a system is 50 percent TEA and 50 percent non, that’s 50 percent of the teachers who are automatically excluded from those conversations. That’s what we’re trying to get around,” he said.

The House version of the bill is scheduled for a vote in the House Finance committee on Tuesday, May 3.

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