published Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Tennessee teachers call bill political payback

NASHVILLE -- A Tennessee Education Association official charged Tuesday that some Republicans are leading a legislative "assault" on the teachers' union because the group refused demands to split its campaign contributions equally between GOP and Democratic candidates.

One of the bills coming up in the Senate Education Committee today would ban collective bargaining by TEA affiliates such as the Hamilton County Education Association.

"They're trying to say that some of these bills are education bills when they're really political payback bills," TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters said.

"We'd love to give more money to Republicans," he said. "But we're going to look for their support before we do that."

He also emphasized that the TEA is not saying all Republicans are involved in the attack.

Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, a former House Republican Caucus chairman, acknowledged that he called Winters last fall and told him the TEA needed to increase its contributions to the GOP. After the union acceded to that demand, Casada said he argued that the union should split its contributions evenly between Republicans and Democrats

But Casada, a co-sponsor of the anti-negotiations bill with current caucus Chairman Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, said that and other bills have nothing to do with last fall's dispute.

"It's not based on a conversation I had with Jerry Winters. ... [It is] based on my philosophical view that unions are obstacles to progress," he said.

He said the TEA is "simply a layer of bureaucracy between the teacher and the school board."

The bill ending collective bargaining is being pushed by groups led by the Tennessee School Boards Association. Also backing the bill are the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Tennessee Business Roundtable and the Tennessee County Commissioners Association.

Two Hamilton County Board of Education members disagree over the bill as well as other measures that would end state and local governments from making payroll deductions for union dues.

"I think it should be up to the local school board," said board chairman Everett Fairchild, who spent several decades as a principal in local schools. "I don't think the Tennessee School Board Association should try to prohibit the local school board from negotiating with their employees."

But school board member Rhonda Thurman said she's "just all for getting rid of the collective bargaining. I think the teachers' union has too much power."

She said she would like to be able to grant teachers pay raises without having to do so for all employees, including top administrative staff, because they also have teacher certificates.

"I also do not like the fact that we take the union dues out of a teacher's check," Thurman said.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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