Service Employees International Union Local 205 has sued Director of Schools Jesse Register and the nine-member Metro school board following the superintendent’s recent decision to rescind the district’s labor negotiations policy.
The suit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, alleges Register and senior Metro Nashville Public Schools staff “exceeded their legal authority” in undoing the 2000-era school board-adopted policy. In a related move last year, which prompted a complaint from SEIU in January, Register elected to allow “memoranda of understanding” with SEIU and United Steelworkers to expire, though Register has contended it wasn’t a “legally binding” policy in the first place.
“Tennessee law, the Metro Charter and school board policy are very clear about the powers that are to be exercised by a school board, as opposed to the powers of the director of schools,” said attorney Dewey Branstetter, a former Metro school board member himself who is SEIU’s legal counsel.
“As set forth in the complaint, Mr. Register has taken action that appropriately can only be taken by the school board itself,” Branstetter said.
In a sharply worded response, MNPS spokeswoman Meredith Libbey told The City Paper that SEIU “continues to focus on union issues, not employee issues, and not on improving children’s education.”
She added, “This union has time for misinformation campaigns, unsubstantiated complaints against the school board, a push poll and now a legal filing — but no time to speak in support of a pay raise for all support employees at the March 20 public hearing on the schools budget.”
“No wonder their members are voting with their feet and walking away from the union,” Libbey said.
In March, school board chair Gracie Porter rejected claims outlined in SEIU’s initial complaint, arguing that it was “without merit and should proceed no further.” Porter, running for re-election to her District 5 seat, has emerged as a target for SEIU, which sent out a negative mailer on her last week.
SEIU, which represents MNPS support staff employees, also contends in its suit that school officials made a concerted effort to discourage employee participation in SEIU Local 205. The suit further claims Register and executive staff members “met in private” to rescind the labor negotiations policy, an alleged violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.
“Dr. Register’s actions have done nothing but divide this community,” SEIU Local 205 President Doug Collier said in a statement. “Just in the last two years, Dr. Register has sent more Nashvillians to the unemployment line than just about anyone else.”
Collier’s comments are directed at the origin of the bitter relationship between SEIU and Register: The board’s 5-3 vote in 2010 to outsource some 700 school custodians, at the Register’s request, to a private company called GCA Services.