Rep. Womick Lets the Cat Outta the Bag

Rep. Rick Womick - (R) Rockvale
Republican State House member Rick Womick doesn’t want you to think the Tennessee Republican Party is out to get teachers. Oh no, not at all. As a matter of fact, he thinks the teachers of Rutherford Co. are fantastic, as for the rest of you yayhoos, who knows.

Womick wants to reassure teachers that Republicans aren’t out to destroy tenure, or their contracts, or anything else like that. In fact, he asserts that all that money that goes into negotiating contracts will no longer have to be spent that way and will go to teachers. He claims this amounts to “millions of dollars”.

Now maybe, just maybe if all the school districts in the state put all the money they spent on contract negotiations together, it might add up to “millions” of dollars, but the Representative offers no proof of this cost, unless he’s adding in the things that go with those contracts, like safe working conditions, adequate textbooks, and all the other things that have absolutely nothing to do with salaries or “benefits” as defined by those who would demonize collective bargaining.

What’s more, Rep. Womick asserts that teachers will still be able to “negotiate their own salaries, join an association to do so, or remain with their current union.” even though the abstract of HB130 clearly states

This bill prohibits any local board of education from negotiating with a professional employees’ organization or teachers’ union concerning the terms or conditions of professional service on or after the effective date of this bill.

So which is it Rep. Womick?

What Womick and his Republican buddies in the state legislature want to do is make teachers “negotiate” their contracts individually, which essentially means, they want to create a “take it or leave it” situation with teachers, and have that situation exist every year. But the bill itself actually prohibits ANY contract negotiation from happening, which means that anyone and everyone will have a new deal every year, and the terms of that deal are subject to the whims of administrators.

This is the kind of employment deal that Republicans are accustomed to setting up, in their businesses, in people that help them around the house, all that stuff. “Take it or leave it” is negotiating in good faith in their book. If you don’t like it, then go find another job.

But we’re not talking about people working at a Taco Bell, or some other low paying service job. We’re talking about people who have spent, at a minimum, four years in school, and many years of additional training to educate the children of Tennessee. Many of these folks received money from the state (in the form of scholarships, etc.) to become teachers. By doing this, and turning our backs on a commitment of time and resources, we’re effectively pissing away that investment.

What this and other anti-union bills ignore is the reason public schools in this and other states haven’t suffered from wild and dramatic swings in the number of available teachers is because of multi-year contracts that contribute to the ultimate stability of the profession. If teachers have to pray that they’ll have a contract year to year, I think you’ll see a lot of the most qualified teachers finding something else to do when they start seeing working conditions turn to crap in addition to the loss of benefits.

What’s more, the additional instability this will create will ultimately hurt the children we’re trying to educate.

But there’s another side of this story. Since the vast majority of revenue in Tennessee is collected through sales taxes, creating a situation where salaries are likely to go down only hurts an already bad revenue scenario for the state. There are about 60,700 teachers in Tennessee, and the average salary of about $43,000. Tennessee is 33rd in the nation in terms of teacher pay (Source). A statewide 10% decrease in salaries means that over $243m would be taken out of teacher’s pockets. Like most middle class earners, most of that money is spent on living expenses meaning that money would be taken away not only from the teachers, but the Tennessee businesses they frequent, further hurting the economy, and leading to job losses. In addition, the loss of this revenue to businesses would result in a $17m net loss of tax revenue for the state, and several million for local and county governments.

All this does is increase the toilet bowl effect in Tennessee.

So Rep. Womack and his Republican friends up in Nashville can say all they want that they’re not attacking Tennessee Teacher, but at the end of the day, that’s exactly what they’re doing. In the process, they’re putting the future of Tennessee at risk. Attracting businesses to the state is already hard enough. By working to gut the public education system, Republicans are ensuring that attracting jobs will be even harder, and the jobs that do come to the state will have the low pay and low benefits.

In effect, Republicans want to compete with Mississippi for being the lowest of the low. That’s what their strategy amounts to. If they’re successful, the rest of the region will be saying, “Thank God for Tennessee”, instead of “Thank God for Mississippi”.

See Also:Sen. Tracy misled on teacher bills

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