Anyone who doubts teachers' claims that Tennessee's Republican-dominated Legislature is leading an "assault" on teachers hasn't been following events. Legislation to strip teachers of their union bargaining rights is now on the table in both the House and the Senate. Gov. Bill Haslam is proposing, by legislative fiat, to tighten tenure rules that were dramatically toughened just last year to help the state win $500 million in Race to the Top funds. And similar fights are going in other states where newly powerful Republican governors and Legislatures now control the agenda.
The Tennessee School Boards Association, regrettably, is solidly backing the bill to strip the teachers' union, the Tennessee Education Association, of bargaining rights. The bill essentially would make it illegal for teachers to negotiate with school boards by voiding the section of the Education Professional Negotiations Act that allows teachers to join or to be assisted by professional employees organizations, and to negotiate through representatives of their own choosing.
A similar measure in Wisconsin is presently wreaking havoc in the Legislature there—Democrats left the Capitol to make it impossible for the Legislature to convene a quorum to help the governor implement the new law—and other union-busting bills are proceeding in Ohio, Indiana and a number of other states.
The common thread in each is not about improving education. It's about scapegoating teachers and denying them the fundamental right accorded other Americans to organize a professional association or a union to represent their interests. And Republicans are doing this for no other reason than political payback and vengeance against a group that they just generally oppose because they're always on the side of business, which typically does everything it can to undermine unions.
Under federal law and the National Labor Relations Act, private employers cannot legally do what the Legislature in Tennessee is trying to do to teachers. Even in right-to-work states like Tennessee, the right of employees to work without joining a union does not negate the right of employees to organize or join a union. President George W. Bush, like his GOP predecessors, did much to cripple unions, but the National Labor Relations Act still stands.
The ideological notion that public employees may not organize or join or negotiate through a union is, at its core, antithetical to the broad public rights accorded Americans to organize and negotiate with their employers. It is a radical and unreasonable act, on its face, for legislatures in Tennessee and elsewhere to act to strip teachers of this fundamental right. The nation's middle class is already being hollowed out and squeezed in every direction. If Republicans cannot honor the common and hard-earned rights of workers, they should at least remember that vengeance can also be had in the next election.
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