Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman sided with SEIU Local 205 in the union’s lawsuit against Metro Nashville Public Schools. The case began in 2011, when Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register unilaterally “rescinded” a school board policy that had been in place since 2000 which, among other things, allowed school support staff to elect bargaining representatives (in this case, Local 205) and which required the superintendent to meet and confer to develop a Memorandum of Understanding.
Chancellor Bonnyman’s ruling on June 24 is the second time that a court has sided with SEIU on this issue, but MNPS plans to appeal the decision. “It’s ironic when we hear school officials, including Dr. Register, complain about how the state government is trying to take away local control of our schools when it comes to charters, but yet here is Register doing the same thing,” says Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205. “The Court clearly said – again – that Register did not have the authority to go around the school board in doing away with the Labor Negotiations Policy and we are wondering when the school board is going to hold Register accountable for thumbing his nose at both them and us.” While attorneys are currently waiting for Chancellor Bonnyman’s written order, her bench ruling indicated that the Labor Negotiation Policy is still in effect and that Dr. Register did not have the legal authority to rescind the LNP.
This is not the first time Register has been embroiled in controversy. In 2010, despite great opposition from the Metro Council and the community, Register ordered the layoffs of nearly 700 custodians and groundskeepers. As a result, hundreds of experienced, loyal city employees – mostly minorities – were sent to the unemployment line. Those that managed to get re-hired lost their benefits and saw their pay slashed. In 2012, Dr. Register was caught making disparaging comments about school employees while being interviewed on a local TV talk show when he thought the cameras weren’t rolling. Register also enraged parents and disability advocates when he laid off about 100 paraprofessionals working with special needs children. Also in 2012, Register was exposed in a front-page story by The Tennessean of violating his employment contract for not filing the ethics and conflict-of-interest forms that were required of him. That particular episode caused Mayor Karl Dean to publicly call for him to complete the forms and caused a Nashville-area state legislator to call for Register’s resignation or termination.
Local 205 also won a separate lawsuit in 2012 in which a judge ruled that support employees have the right to appeal their termination to the school board. That case was remanded by the Tennessee Court of Appeals for further litigation. “Despite the court ruling against them on that issue too, Register has terminated 19 support workers and displaced 49 others without affording them an independent hearing,” Collier said. “That’s another 68 working families being torn apart thanks to Dr. Register’s refusal to comply with court instructions.”
All of this prompted school board member Will Pinkston to issue a statement at the July 2014 school board meeting in which he said “this has gone on long enough… it’s time to cut our losses and chart a path toward more collaborative labor relations… this is a distraction.” To date, school board chair Cheryl Mayes, who is in a bid for re-election, has refused to add the issue for discussion on the school board meeting agenda. Pinkston has said that if Mayes does not bring the issue up on the agenda soon that he will be putting forward a motion for Register to abide by the Labor Negotiations Policy.
“Taxpayers should be asking the district to stop wasting money that could be spent in the schools on a legal defense fund for Jesse Register and voters should be asking school board candidates if they plan to hold Register accountable for his long history of defying the law and the courts,” Collier said. “All we are asking and all we have ever asked is for Dr. Register to acknowledge workers’ rights to have a union and to go by the policies that elected school members have put in place.”
You can read more about this story at The Tennessean.