Tennessee to vote tomorrow on Wisconsin-like labor legislation

The Tennessee state legislature tomorrow will vote on a bill that would limit collective bargaining for teachers’ unions — the only government unions allowed in the state of Tennessee.

The bill echoes the legislation the Wisconsin legislature passed earlier this year in the face of union protests and the flight of 14 Wisconsin state senators. Around that time, union protesters marched in Tennessee, too — but, in recent weeks, Tennessee’s version of a bargain-limiting bill has moved forward to relatively little national fanfare, even though both Tennessee Education Association activists and Tea Party supporters have continued to express strong views on the bill.

Earlier this month, the state Senate approved a complete repeal of collective bargaining (S.B. 0113) — a measure that would be even more stringent than the bill that caused such controversy in Wisconsin. But the Tennessee House of Representatives Monday night adopted an amendment that alters the bill to allow teachers to bargain over wages and benefits, but not working conditions. If the House approves the bill tomorrow, it’ll go to a conference committee.

But whether the bill has the support it needs to pass remains in question.  The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Debra Young Maggart (R-District 45), has said she deferred the vote to Thursday to garner more ‘yes’ votes.

Unlike Walker, supporters of the Tennessee bill haven’t advertised it as a way to reduce the deficit — because Tennessee doesn’t have one. The state is constitutionally obligated to run a balanced budget — and, according to state budget spokeswoman Lola Potter, year-to-date collections are actually $154.2 million more than the budgeted estimate.

Instead, according to Heritage labor analyst James Sherk, Tennessee supporters have touted the bill as a way to improve education quality by returning decision-making authority to the hands of elected, accountable school board officials and away from union leaders — which, of course, is exactly what the bill would do. Breaking the legal monopoly that is collective bargaining with government unions does nothing but return power to voters.