Tennessee Considers Limits to Collective Bargaining

Lindsey Burke /

Tennessee could soon become the latest state to deal public-sector collective bargaining a major blow.

The Tennessee state House has just passed a measure that limits collective bargaining for teachers. Education employees would no longer be able to bargain over performance pay and school assignment policies, such as teacher compensation and layoffs. The Senate version of the bill eliminates collective bargaining altogether. The two bills will now have to be reconciled in conference committee before heading on to Governor Bill Haslam’s (R) desk for approval.

Tennessee is working to curb the power that public-sector unions have over education. Across the country, unions have successfully lobbied for nearly five decades to prevent public education employees from having to contribute to the cost of their own health insurance premiums, for increases in pensions and other benefits, and against provisions such as parental school choice. They have also fought against tenure reform and merit pay for teachers.

The Tennessee Education Association—the Tennessee affiliate of the National Education Association—took in more than $12 million in union dues in 2008 (the most recent year for which data is available). And according to the Center for Union Facts, it gave more than 90 percent of that money to Democrats or left-leaning causes. They also report that in Tennessee, teachers are tenured after just three years, and less than 1 percent of teachers are fired each year (compared to nearly 10 percent in private schools).

Many of the problems plaguing American education today can be attributed directly to union power, which can be reduced through common-sense reforms at the state level.

Tennessee is moving in a direction that will weaken the stranglehold that teachers’ unions have on education and begin ensuring that the interests of children—not adults in the system—come first. Breaking the stranglehold from these unions is the first step toward making long-term, meaningful education reform.