By Steve Gill
The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) often touts their legal prowess in order to justify the annual dues they extract from their union membership. To prove their claim they seem intent on creating lots of litigation through misuse of the 2011 Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act. That Act was intended in part to replace contentious fights with collaboration and cooperation among the parties. Now, TEA seems to brag that PECCA is helping them generate lawsuits rather than prevent them. Most of these suits provide little, if any, actual benefit to their membership.
The Maury County case mentioned in the article is a great example. TEA complained that the PECCA voting system used by Maury County was faulty and resulted in an inordinate number of votes for a competing teacher’s organization. After the complaint was raised, the “other side” responded simply and directly: “let’s revote.” That is exactly what the TEA had originally requested. However, TEA’s local affiliate, Maury County Education Association, didn’t see it that way and instead initiated a lawsuit asking for a revote.
Why would the teachers’ union sue to get what had already been offered? Because these lawsuits are part of a marketing campaign supporting claims they “fight for teachers” – even when many of those “fights” are completely unnecessary and result in tax dollars (and proceeds from union dues) funding needless and time consuming litigation. Thanks to these expensive suits TEA members often end up paying twice. First, when their dues are used to pay the TEA lawyers to file the suits; and then as taxpayers, when more lawyers are hired to defend against the lawsuits. Taxpaying teachers end up paying for both sides, and in many cases they get absolutely nothing!
In Maury County the school system not only sees their personnel being pulled from their important duties in order to become involved in protracted litigation, depositions and trial attendance, but also has to use limited taxpayer funds to pay attorneys to defend the case. Certainly, those taxpayer dollars could be used much better by paying for new textbooks, improving facilities, hiring more teachers and paying them better. Do these lawsuits help teachers or just the lawyers who help themselves at the expense of the teachers?
Similar wasteful litigation is clearly on the horizon, as the TEA makes clear in their own “marketing” article:
The Maury filing is just the latest in a series of legal challenges TEA has filed statewide regarding violations of the collaborative conferencing law. If you experience problems with PECCA or would like to start the conferencing process in your district, contact your TEA UniServ coordinator.” They are not only proud of abusing the legal system for marketing purposes but are promoting their desire for more opportunities to do so. They haven’t actually gained anything by suing the Maury County School System, but are already trolling for more unnecessary lawsuits.
The costs of these “showcase” lawsuits are adding up. Another TEA affiliate, Washington County Education Association, recently sued the Washington County Board of Education, providing another example of using litigation to gain attention rather than gain ground for teachers. The teachers’ union alleged a breach of confidentiality during a Board of Education executive session. The school district offered to institute a corrective process to prevent any further breach in the future, which would have resolved the issue without the expense of a lawsuit. The local union chose to resort to an expensive lawsuit rather than solve the problem and prevent future occurrences.
Looking at yet a third region, of the state, Memphis, we find large numbers of TEA’s affiliate members leaving to form their own association. The exodus in Memphis was prompted, at least in part, by TEA’s legal service program. According to Keith Williams, Executive Director of the Memphis-Shelby Education Association, the TEA legal service program was producing a 2 to 3% win percentage. You read that right. That means they reportedly lost 97 to 98% of the cases they pursued! The hapless Washington Generals who “play” against the Harlem Globetrotters have a similar record!
Perhaps teachers who belong to TEA are happy with their dues money being spent on funding unnecessary lawsuits across Tennessee. Presumably, those TEA members have no problem with the fact their lawsuits distract our educators and Administrators from focusing on improving our schools and producing better results in our classrooms. Its their dues money and if they don’t care how it is spent then why should we?
But the taxpayer money used to defend against these often frivolous law-suits is OUR money. We definitely can, and SHOULD, care about that! The TEA and their lawyers have declared a war on taxpayers; and it is time for legislators and candidates for the legislature to make it clear which side they are on in this fight. Are they on the side of the teachers and the taxpayers and willing to aggressively fight to protect their interests against the excesses of the TEA? Or are they simply lackeys for the teachers’ union? Republican legislators and candidates should reject TEA money and support in the upcoming election season in order to make it clear who they choose to stand with – and against!
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Steve Gill is a conservative Republican strategist and frequent contributor to the Tennessee Star.