Tennessee teachers fight bill to end collective bargaining

NASHVILLE, Tennessee Mon Feb 21, 2011 12:35pm EST

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - A Tennessee teachers group is calling a Republican-backed state bill that would end collective bargaining an "attack" on teachers' rights.

"We don't view this as education reform. It's an attack on the rights of teachers to have a voice regarding their working conditions, which are also the learning conditions of students," said Alexei Smirnov, spokesman for the 52,000-member Tennessee Education Association, which represents 92 state school districts.

The Republican-dominated Tennessee Senate Education Committee voted last week to deny Tennessee teachers the right to negotiate their working conditions with boards of education across the state through collective bargaining.

Republicans hold the majorities in both the Senate and House. The Tennessee School Boards Association also endorses the bill.

The Tennessee bill echoes proposals to curb public worker collective bargaining rights in other states, including Wisconsin, whose state capital has been the scene of massive worker protests over the past week.

U.S. state and local governments are struggling to balance budgets after the recession decimated their finances.

Tennessee's anti-union proposal was not a part of first-term Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's package of legislative proposals he announced on Thursday. His education proposals include extending the number of years a teacher must serve before gaining tenure and removing the limit on the number of charter schools across the state.

(Writing by Tim Ghianni; editing by Mary Wisniewski and Tim Gaynor)

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