published Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Judge 'leaning toward' OK'ing teachers' injunction

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A local judge told attorneys he is "leaning toward" granting an injunction that would continue collective bargaining rights for Hamilton County teachers during contract renegotiations this year.

Chancellor Frank Brown III had not ruled on the injunction as of 4 p.m. Monday, when county offices closed. Attorneys for both sides of the collective bargaining question argued the case before him earlier that day.

The Hamilton County Education Association sued the county Board of Education in March over allegations that the board isn't following the guidelines of the current three-year contract, which allow reopening negotiations annually on pay, insurance, retirement and travel allowances.

The Tennessee Legislature eliminated collective bargaining during its 2011 session, replacing the practice with "collaborative conferencing," in which school boards are required to meet with teachers on some topics but have no duty to enter into agreements.

The state's 30-year-old collective bargaining law required local school boards to bargain in districts where a majority of teachers had organized a union. Collective bargaining supporters said the law gave teachers negotiation strength, while opponents said it tied up local boards with too many items included in the agreements.

On Monday in front of Brown, the association's attorney, Rick Colbert, of Franklin, Tenn., argued that collective bargaining during annual renegotiations should stay in place until the contract expires in 2014.

"The existing contract is constitutional until the end of its terms," Colbert said.

But the board's attorneys, Scott Bennett and James Hildebrand Jr., countered that recently changed state law prevents the board from collective bargaining in negotiations.

"The board of education is without the legal right to negotiate," Hildebrand said.

A similar case concluded in the Circuit Court of Dickson County between that county's education association and board of education. In that case, the judge ruled in favor of teachers, saying the Legislature intended that current contract conditions be upheld, which continues collective bargaining until at least 2013, when the Dickson County contract ends.

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about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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