Thursday morning the Tennessee Senate will consider a payroll deduction bill that will provide teachers with an option to get politics out of their paychecks. For many, it will also provide equal access to payroll deduction for dues payment for groups other than the increasingly liberal activism of the teachers’ union, the Tennessee Education Association (TEA).
There are currently five active teacher associations across the state that serve educators. Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET), a non-partisan association and the TEA, a union, are the most active statewide. There is also the American Federation of Teachers, Christian Educators Association International and the American Association of Educators.
In Memphis, the local-only Memphis-Shelby County Education Association represents teachers’ interests. The Memphis group broke away from the state association over philosophical differences, in a very publicized dispute. Keith Williams spoke about it in the Truth About the Tennessee Education Association. In most counties, the TEA has been the only group granted payroll deduction. Senate Bill 482, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire, could level that playing field.
In some states, like Texas, multiple teacher groups exist and the process for payroll deduction for dues payments is available to all such groups. These competing groups agree on some issues and disagree on others; some are more politically active than others. Yet all operated on a level playing field when it comes to access to payroll deduction as a means of collecting dues from their members.
“Just as there are different faiths and denominations, different political parties, and multiple flavors of ice cream, there is no one size fits all for Tennessee educators” according to JC Bowman, Executive Director of PET. Bowman argues that “policymakers should never choose sides in the debate to grant one organization an unfair monopoly over the others.”
The Gardenhire bill would “simply establish ground rules to ensure fairness for all educators and for all organizations,” Bowman adds. “All we have ever asked is that the system not pick winners and losers and instead make it fair for all professional employee organizations.”
The Senate version differs slightly from the House version, sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, Rep. Mark White and Rep. John Ragan. This House bill has already passed, 84-9. Both PET and the TEA supported the original legislation before amendments were made.
The Senate Education Committee added an amendment that requires educators to be informed that they have the right to either join or not join a union or professional organization without putting their employment at risk, pursuant to the recent Supreme Court opinion in Janus. Additionally, educators provided the opportunity to “opt in” to an organization, versus “opt out,” on an annual basis. Putnam County, for example, already has that requirement in place. Each of these changes to the bill would provide educators with more information and freedom, both of which are supported by PET according to Bowman.
“If the House doesn’t accept a version of the legislation that includes the Senate amendments we think the current House bill is an adequate fallback. But no group should have the benefit of payroll deduction unless ALL groups have that same opportunity.” Bowman notes.
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Photo “Keith Williams” by MSCEA.