Republican state senators, hoping to appease opponents, unveiled their new proposal Wednesday to outlaw collective bargaining by public school teachers.
Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood, cast his amendment as a major concession to teachers, although his bill still would repeal the state’s collective bargaining law and end contract negotiations by teachers.
The amendment, approved by the Senate Education Committee by a 6-3 vote, would require school boards across the state to develop employment manuals on pay, benefits and working conditions after holding public hearings and giving teachers and the public time to comment.
“I’d say the operative word is collaboration,” Johnson told the committee. “We want our teachers to be heard. We want them to have input. They are the ones in our classroom. They are the ones with our kids. There is certainly nothing wrong with ensuring that their voices are heard.”
But the amendment would not provide teachers with any way to force changes in the manuals, and Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters complained it gives only “some illusion of input from various groups.”
“We do not view this in any positive light,” Winters told the committee.
Winters scoffed at Johnson’s claim that Republicans seek collaboration with teachers.
“We represent 50,000 teachers in this state. No one’s knocked on our door asking for our participation,” Winters said. “Quite frankly, I think it’s very disingenuous for you to say this is about collaboration because no one has asked for our input.”
Winters said the legislature’s Republican majority has filed an “unrelenting barrage of bills” against the teachers’ union this session only a year after the TEA made significant concessions last year to help the state win $500 million in President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top competition.
“Those very teachers feel betrayed by you,” Winters said. “They feel you’ve turned your back on them. They do not feel they’ve been treated with the respect they deserve. Morale is low. There have been a lot of bridges burned this session. Passage of this bill just burns another one of those bridges.”
Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to bust the TEA because the association has traditionally allied itself with Democrats in election campaigns.
“It’s not easy to take when you’re accused of bashing teachers,” Johnson said. “I have not heard one member of the general assembly say one critical thing about teachers. You certainly haven’t heard that out of me.”
The companion bill in the House has been amended to allow collective bargaining for pay and benefits but not for other matters, such as merit pay. The amended Senate proposal is aimed at winning House support for an outright repeal of collective bargaining. House Speaker Beth Harwell has indicated that representatives will go along with the new Senate bill.