published Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Harwell prefers limits on unions

NASHVILLE — House Speaker Beth Harwell said Tuesday she favors restricting teachers’ ability to negotiate contracts rather than a complete ban on collective bargaining pushed by Senate Republican leaders.

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    Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to the Tennessee chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business in Nashville on Tuesday. The Republican governor said he’s pleased the House will take up his education package before delving into a measure aiming to strip teachers of collective bargaining rights. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

The Nashville Republican said she fully supports stopping Tennessee Education Association affiliates from using collective bargaining to block initiatives such as merit pay or better compensation for educators who teach hard-to-fill subjects like science and math.

That would provide school boards more freedom to implement such measures, she said.

“I think there will be a few changes made to the bill,” Harwell told the Tennessee chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. “Ultimately, I think it will pass.

“I think anything that has an impact on how well a child learns in the classroom should be taken out of the negotiation process, and I think that’s what we’re sitting and discussing,” she said.

In a subsequent interview, Harwell said she is “open” to the idea of letting the Tennessee Education Association’s affiliates continue to negotiate on many wage and benefit issues. But she repeatedly emphasized that “if the [Education] subcommittee I put together is not open to that, I’m fine.”

Harwell earlier told National Federation of Independent Business members that she intended to move Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill making it tougher for teachers to win and maintain tenure protections before she moves the collective bargaining bill.

The Senate Education Committee has passed the anti-collective bargaining bill, one of several targeting the Tennessee Education Association. The Senate panel is expected to take up the Haslam’s tenure legislation in the morning.

Haslam also addressed the National Federation of Independent Business. Speaking later with reporters, he said he wants the teacher tenure legislation “to be a priority for us.”

The governor, who has avoided stating where he stands on the collective-bargaining bill, said the measure is “still developing.”

“I think we’re not at the end of the road on that,” he said, “and I think there’ll be a few more twists and turns before we get there.”

Asked if he might weigh in, Haslam said, “it all depends on how that plays out. But I think I easily could, yes.”

The 52,000-member Tennessee Education Association is battling the proposed ban on collective bargaining. But they have expressed openness to discussing Haslam’s proposals such as toughening teacher tenure laws and other provisions dealing with charter schools.

“As long as they [legislation] is what we consider education reform issues, we’re willing to talk,” TEA chief lobbyist Jerry Winters said. “But these bills that are just attacking teachers’ organizations are just a great distraction.”

Regarding Harwell’s comments, Winters said, “that’s something I don’t want to say definitely we could or could not agree to, but we’re certainly open to talk about that.”

Teachers plan a rally at the Capitol on Saturday, with hopes of attracting 2,000 to 3,000 participants.

“It’s going to show there’s a great deal of unrest out there among the teachers,” Winters said.

But the Tennessee Tea Party is planning a counter-rally and, in a recent e-mail, asked tea party members from other states such as Mississippi to come and bolster their numbers.

“We need to ‘wear them out’ now!” said an emergency legislative alert sent Monday by the group, urging members to contact lawmakers. “We have got to focus attention on the House side of this issue. We have the votes in the Senate.”

The group said it included Harwell on “this list for good measure. We are also being told that Governor [Bill] Haslam is exceedingly weak. ... We need to apply pressure to him.”

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he continues to support the bill “the way it was written.” He said Haslam had asked the Senate to “kind of figure out what’s going to pass the House and make sure that we have some kind of compromise there.”

As a result, Senate Republican leaders have delayed bringing it to the floor.

“But at the same time, I think you’re going to see it pass the Senate and probably in the next week or so,” Ramsey said.

Contact staff writer 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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Facts said...

Now we see the difference in a Haslam-Harwell driven state versus a Ramsey-Casada led state. Haslam-Harwell are supporting collective bargaining that will be an obstacle for reforms (remember the Race to the Top funds that TN has to reform education). Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and Rep. Glen Casada have both been on record to support teachers and classroom activities, not the union driven by administrators. Democrat-lite.

March 2, 2011 at 7:11 a.m.
ceeweed said...

Public sector jobs are not a bed of roses. Those who choose to work these jobs deserve the benefits they have fought for. This business of vilifying public workers unions does not float with the majority of Americans. Oh, here's an idea, lets have big business be on an honor system. We all can trust that businesses will provide a living wage with insurance and a retirement plan. Yeah, lets do away with the EPA and OSHA too, I'm sure the honor system will assure safe working conditions and industries that won't pollute our environment. Yeah, yeah, yeah... Nirvana is in sight! We only need to purge ourselves of rational thought, accept sound bites as gospel, shun logic at all levels, and trust in the political process.

March 8, 2011 at 12:44 a.m.

Was not Bill Haslam father in a union before he became a millonare ?

May 4, 2011 at 2:58 p.m.
chet123 said...

Republicans just cant leave Teachers and public employees alone,,,,Tennessee working class will have to do like OHIO and WISCONSIN and push back the republicans,,,,,,they cant help themselves.....from overreaching

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