Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tennessee Legislative Wrap-Up: One for the Record Books

     The Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on Saturday, after months of attacking workers rights from many angles. The glimmers of hope: our local living wage laws withstood attempts to repeal them, and state workers got their first raise in four years. But the bad news is pretty awful: teachers' rights to collective bargaining were largely shredded; local governments can't prohibit discrimination; and all employers will have to use an incredibly flawed e-verify system to check job applicants eligibility to work.

Rev. Mary Edwards was one of dozens of WIN members who raised her voice for workers at the state legislature this year.

Here are the details on some of the most important bills affecting workers:

Teachers' Collective Bargaining
    Originally, anti-teacher forces tried to take away teachers' collective bargaining rights entirely. At the last minute, a compromise was arrived at that greatly reduces the role that teachers' unions can have in influencing teachers' working conditions.
    School districts are no longer required to engage in collective bargaining in districts where teachers have voted for union representation. Instead, teachers will elect committees of people to represent them. Union representatives can run for positions on these committees, but others will be included as well. The end result of negotiations will be memoranda of understanding, which cannot be legally enforced in the same way that a union contract can. And, while negotiations can include pay, insurance, and benefits, the committees will have no say over job assignments, bonuses, and other issues that are supposed to be related to student achievement.

    Fortunately, consideration of an Arizona copypcat bill was delayed until 2012 because of the giant price tag to implementing the bill. So for now, local law enforcement isn't charged with enforcing federal immigration law.
   However, another misguided attempt by the state to take on immigration did pass: requiring employers to use the federal e-verify system to check job applicants' eligibility to work. While this may sound harmless, the Social Security's e-verify system is riddled with errors. It's also possible that the broader use of e-verify could lead to more wage theft. WIN has already seen employers who hire workers and wait to use the e-verify system until after they've done days or weeks of work. Federal law requires employers to pay these workers for the labor they've already done, even if they don't have proper work authorization. But plenty of employers will refuse to pay workers, using e-verify as an excuse.
    Tennessee employers will have to begin using the e-verify system in 2012.

Pay raises for University workers
    The budget passed by the legislature includes a 1.6% for all state workers, including University of Memphis employees. This is a step forward since the vast majority of workers haven't had any raise in four years.
    But if this very modest amount is distributed as a percentage amount, low-wage workers like U. of M. custodians could see only a $10 raise per pay period. As a WIN member, you've been pushing the University administration to distribute the raise as an equal dollar cost of living increase to all employees, so that it makes a real difference to workers who aren't paid a living wage. The University has not yet announced how the raise will be distributed, so we are still hopeful they will listen to the community outcry on this issue.

Criminalizing labor unions
    House and Senate committees passed a terrible bill that would allowed injunctions to be issued again unions for any violence committed by their members, even if the union did not condone the violence. The bill includes “intimidation” as “unlawful violence.”  An employee or employer could claim that asking someone to sign a petition in support of collective bargaining or even a political candidate constitutes “intimidation.” The bill only addressed violence by unions, and deliberately did not address possible violence by company officials against workers.
    Fortunately, this misguided bill was not passed on the House and Senate floor, and instead was sent back to committee for next year.

Repeal of Memphis and Shelby County living wage ordinances
    This bill, which would have invalidated large parts of the living wage ordinances you worked so hard to get passed, has been sent to summer study committee. Bills are often sent to summer study when there is not enough support to pass them. WIN will be monitoring the study committee, but it may be that the bill is not even brought up for discussion over the summer.

Special access to discriminate act
    All people have the right to work, regardless of their sexual orientation. But this bill takes away local governments abilities to stop discrimination among contractors who are funded by taxpayer dollars.

    The special access to discriminate act prohibits local governments in Tennessee from telling their contractors not to discriminate against workers because of their sexual orientation. It revokes an ordinance just passed by Nashville Metro Government which bars discrimination by the city's contractors.
   The bill passed both the House and Senate and has been signed into law by Governor Haslam, but a court challenge by opponents of the bill is expected.

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1 comment:

  1. at least the legislative session is over and they can't do any more damage for a while. Wish we could think of a way to keep our legislators on vacation for a long time!