Commentary: Talking a Bill to Death


“When you have the votes, Vote. When you don’t have the votes, Talk“. Those were great words of advice in the Tennessee Senate on this year by Senator Frank Niceley.

And last week on a particular piece of legislation, HB 356, we heard a lot of talk. Still at the end of the day, the vote came out correctly in sub-committee. Now it comes before the full committee.

Current legislation House Bill 356 and Senate Bill 404, the Equal Rights for Teachers Bill, would bring much needed clarity to the issue of payroll deduction. It is important to note: this legislation is not about organizations, it is about fairness to all 80,000+ educators in our state. In fact, only 8 districts have allowed multiple organizations to have payroll deductions. This means only about 1/3 of the teachers currently enjoy this benefit. The state must ensure local districts are fair and equitable to all teachers.

Tennessee has clearly established that teachers should have the right to join the professional association of their choosing, so it follows that it should be established that educators have equal opportunity in how they pay their dues to the organization of their choosing.

It is worth noting that professional employees’ organizations are defined in existing state law. It means any organization with membership open to professional employees.

There are currently at least 6 organizations actively competing for members and serving educators in our state, from Professional Educators of Tennessee, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Christian Educators Association International, American Association of Educators and in Memphis only….the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association.

It would be a gross mischaracterization to say that one association is being singled out or targeted by this legislation. On the contrary, one organization has enjoyed an unfair monopoly for years in our state. This is not fair.

To his credit last year, the representative from the National Education Association affiliate went on record in a House Committee supporting payroll deductions for all organizations.   See the testimony in House Education Administration & Planning Committee & Subcommittee on last year’s HB 2229, notably the February 16th, 2016 testimony.

Again there are at least 6 organizations serving educators in our state, and more than likely we may see more in the future. All teachers deserve the same right in regard to payroll deductions of their member dues.

This legislation is fairly simple, do we believe all teachers deserve equal rights or not?

It’s time to quit talking and time to vote.

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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