GALLATIN, Tenn. (AP) — A professional organization that advocates for Tennessee teachers has filed a lawsuit challenging a new state law that bans the group from deducting membership dues from educators’ paychecks.
The Tennessee Education Association filed the challenge Monday over the two-pronged law, which also gradually raises the minimum teacher salary up to $50,000 for the 2026-2027 school year. The association supports the pay raise, but opposes the deductions ban. Republican Gov. Bill Lee pushed for the dual-purpose bill with the support from the GOP-dominant General Assembly this year.
The group’s lawsuit contends that combining the two changes into one bill violates a single-subject requirement for any legislation that is required by the Tennessee Constitution. The challenge calls for a judge to leave the pay raise in place and block the payroll deduction change.
Additionally, the lawsuit says the bill’s caption — which is a short summary — is “constitutionally defective” because it did not mention the payroll deductions change, which takes effect July 1.
The complaint also argues that the ban violates the state and federal constitutional protections for contracts. That includes certain agreements between the Tennessee Education Association’s local affiliates and school districts that include provisions about deductions, and separate agreements between the association and teachers.
Three local affiliates and two member teachers joined the Tennessee Education Association as plaintiffs in the lawsuit in state chancery court in Nashville.
“Sliding a payroll dues deduction ban in a bill to raise the minimum pay was a cynical attack on Tennessee teachers. The ban was mean-spirited, and the way it passed was unconstitutional,” Tennessee Education Association President Tanya Coats said in a news release.
In Gallatin on Tuesday, Lee told reporters that the bill was meant to “give teachers a pay raise and to make sure that taxpayer dollars are used appropriately and not used inappropriately.” Administering a dues-deduction program has a cost to taxpayers, he added.
In court filings, the education association fought back against claims about costs, saying the payroll deduction is an automated, “simple matter of a keystroke for school districts” that “imposes no appreciable burdens or costs” on them.
The teachers group said the ban, meanwhile, will cost it money and diminish its own revenues, which come entirely from member dues.
A spokesperson for the attorney general declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Efforts to pass a paycheck deduction ban have failed in Tennessee as standalone bills in recent years. And though Lee and the Tennessee Education Association have at times butted heads, including over his school voucher program, the organization is influential among Democratic and Republican lawmakers and has a well-funded political action committee. This year’s multipurpose proposal tied some lawmakers in knots.
Proponents of keeping the deduction system intact said it provides local control — payroll dues deductions are optional at the school district level, and teachers don’t have to join the Tennessee Education Association, or any other professional organization. They noted that certain state employee groups have paycheck deductions, and that the teachers’ group was being singled out.
Lee and other supporters of banning the paycheck dues deductions have argued that it removes the collection of dues for teachers unions from the school districts’ payroll staff. The Tennessee Education Association has said it’s not a union — it’s a professional organization that advocates on a wide range of issues for educators.
Tennessee has already eliminated key rights associated with unions for public school teachers. In 2011, the state passed a law that eliminated teachers’ collective bargaining rights, replacing them with a concept called collaborative conferencing — which swapped union contracts with binding memorandums of understanding on issues such as salaries, grievances, benefits and working conditions. Additionally, Tennessee teachers lost the ability to go on strike in 1978.
AP-TN-XGR–Teacher Payroll Deductions-Tennessee, 1st Ld-Writethru
Jun 13, 2023 5:05 PM – 635 words
Eds: UPDATES: This version updates with quote from Lee, Tennessee Education Association filing about dues deduction costs. With AP Photos.
Cover Photo: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State address in the House Chamber of the Capitol building, Jan. 31, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. A professional organization that advocates for Tennessee teachers has filed a lawsuit challenging a new state law that bans the group from deducting membership dues from educators’ paychecks. The Tennessee Education Association filed the challenge Monday, June 12, 2023 over the two-pronged law, which also gradually raises the minimum teacher salary up to $50,000 for the 2026-2027 school year. The association supports the pay raise, but opposes the deductions ban. Gov. Lee pushed for the dual-purpose bill with the support from the GOP-dominant General Assembly this year. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, file)