NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — When Gov. Bill Lee announced a bill to increase teacher pay in the next few years, lawmakers met it with raucous applause.
But now, a caveat to that bill has some pulling that back.
“It’s not efficient, it’s not good government,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville).
The bill would increase teacher pay to a $50,000 minimum by the 2026 school year.
But at the bottom it reads, “An LEA shall not deduct dues from the wages of the LEA’s employees for a professional employees’ organization.”
In other words, a union can’t automatically deduct dues from a member’s paycheck.
It’s not a huge change, but Democrats see it as another roadblock to preventing organization, as some people may be discouraged from taking money from their actual bank account.
“I think it’s pretty offensive that the governor wants to play politics with teacher pay raises,” Clemmons said. “Let’s call it what it is: it’s a poison pill on a pay raise bill.”
The “poison pill” Clemmons is referring to is a legal strategy. It can be applied to a wide variety of situations, but it generally refers to one where a company makes itself look unattractive when it’s undergoing a potential buyout.
It’s a little different in this instance, but Clemmons essentially is pointing out that the bill is “poison” for Democrats. They either vote against unions or teacher pay increases, both of which they agree with.
“[Lee’s] trying to do it just to play political games and put Democrats in a tough position to try to get us to vote against a teacher pay raise,” Clemmons said. “That’s pretty lame.”
Republicans point out union members would still be able to pay dues, it just couldn’t be pulled out by the union itself if this bill passes.
“The governor’s office thinks that our local school districts shouldn’t be responsible for facilitating that deduction,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin). “Certainly, those who wish to be a member of a professional organization or union can set that up on automatic draft from their bank account.”
But Democrats wonder why not apply this to other industries, like law enforcement, as opposed to attaching it solely to teacher pay increases?
“[Lee’s] done everything he possibly can to decimate our public schools and undermine the entire teaching profession,” Clemmons said. “This is just the next step.”
Separately, another bill to force all union votes statewide, not just related to education, to be a secret ballot passed the House and heads to the Senate floor Monday.
Republicans argue it decreases intimidation while Democrats say it decreases transparency and is another attempt to quash union creation.
News 2 asked both parties if Tennessee is trying to become an anti-union state.
“Yeah, I think it’s pretty clear,” Clemmons said.
Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) saw it differently.
“It’s a more pro-employee state.”