State House Speaker Beth Harwell suggested Tuesday she wants to stop short of an outright repeal of the collective bargaining rights of the teachers’ union, placing herself at odds with the Tennessee Tea Party.
The Tea Party sent an “emergency alert” urging its supporters to contact lawmakers who are waffling on the legislation. “We need to ‘wear them out’ now!” the alert said. At the top of the list was Harwell.
But the Nashville Republican told the Tennessee chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business that she favors modifying the bill to forbid collective bargaining only for certain contract issues. Harwell said, for instance, she’s against allowing union negotiations over merit pay, leaving open the possibility that she would allow it for base pay and other benefits.
“I think there will be a few changes made to the bill. Ultimately, I think it will pass,” Harwell said.
Gov. Bill Haslam, who also spoke to the business group, said afterward that he too expects changes in the bill.
“That’s a good example of a piece of legislation that’s still developing,” the governor said. “We’re not at the end of the road on that, and I think there will be a few more twists and turns before we get there.”
Haslam has been criticized for refusing to take a position on the bill. He said he might do so before the legislature votes on it.
“It all depends on how that plays out but I think I easily could, yes,” he said.
The bill has passed the Senate Education Committee. But at Haslam’s request, the legislature is waiting to take further action until the governor’s education reform measures are considered. Haslam wants to change the law to make it harder for teachers to receive and to keep tenure. That bill comes up Wednesday in a Senate committee.
“This is not at all about pointing fingers at teachers,” Haslam said.
“If it is, it’s the wrong discussion.”
Obviously sensitive to the accusation that Republicans are targeting the rights of teachers, Harwell also emphasized that point.
“This is not an attempt to hurt a teacher,” she said. “This is an attempt to help the student learn in the classroom.”
Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said he welcomed Harwell’s remarks about the collective bargaining bill.
“There’s obviously room for negotiations. We’re certainly open to talks,” he said. “Teachers are feeling very put-upon right now. In many cases, they are feeling almost betrayed by the legislature.”