Tennessee ban on paycheck dues deduction to teacher group can take effect, judges rule
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A court has ruled that Tennessee can begin banning a teacher advocacy organization from deducting membership dues from those educators’ paychecks. A panel of three state judges ruled Friday that the ban targeting the Tennessee Education Association no longer needs to be blocked. In late June, the judges sided with the Tennessee Education Association by stopping the provision from taking effect July 1. The association challenged half of the two-pronged law, arguing a provision that raises the minimum teacher salary should remain. The judges last week ruled against the association’s arguments that the law improperly combined the changes, didn’t correctly note them in the bill’s caption and infringed on contractual rights of local affiliates and teachers.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee can now begin banning a professional teacher advocacy organization from deducting membership dues from those educators’ paychecks, according to a court ruling.
A panel of three state court trial judges decided Friday that the recently enacted law targeting the Tennessee Education Association no longer needs to be blocked in court.
In late June, the judges initially sided with the Tennessee Education Association by stopping the provision from taking effect on July 1. Yet at the time, the judges said that they weren’t making a “determination as to the merits” of the plaintiffs’ claims.
The association sued the state in June over the two-pronged law, which also gradually raises the minimum teacher salary up to $50,000 for the 2026-27 school year. Republican Gov. Bill Lee pushed for the dual-purpose bill with the support from the GOP-dominant General Assembly this year.
The challenge calls for a judge to keep the pay raise, but block the deductions ban. The association says the ban will cost the group money and diminish its own revenues, which come entirely from member dues.
In their Friday decision, the judges ruled against the association’s arguments for a temporary injunction, saying that combining the two changes into one bill does not violate a single-subject requirement for legislation under the Tennessee Constitution. The judges also decided that the bill’s caption — commonly known as a short summary — sufficiently covers what the legislation does.
Additionally, they found that the law doesn’t substantially impair contracts between the Tennessee Education Association’s local affiliates and school districts that include provisions about deductions; and other agreements between the association and teachers.
The judges acknowledged that the ban “will cause some headaches” for teachers, the association and its local affiliates. But the judges said that the plaintiffs’ “valid concerns” don’t rise to the level of a contracts clause violation. They also noted that there are other ways to pay dues, including a statewide effort by the Tennessee Education Association to move to an EZ Pay system, which collects dues through recurring payments.
“It is likely that not all members will make the change in time,” the ruling states. “Some may forego paying dues altogether. And those that choose alternative methods may take on increased costs in the form of credit card and bank processing fees.”
Three affiliates and two member teachers joined the Tennessee Education Association as plaintiffs.
Teachers who choose to join a local affiliate of the Tennessee Education Association agree to be a member of and pay dues to the state association and the National Education Association, a group that conservative opponents of the paycheck dues deduction have criticized as too progressive.
Lee and the Tennessee Education Association have at times butted heads, including over his school voucher program. The group is influential among Democratic and Republican lawmakers and has a well-funded political action committee.
Payroll dues deductions are optional for school districts. Teachers also don’t have to join the Tennessee Education Association, or any professional organization. Additionally, advocates noted that certain state employee groups use paycheck deductions.
Lee has argued that the law removes the collection of dues for teachers unions from the school districts’ payroll staff, and guarantees “taxpayer dollars are used to educate students, and not fund politics.”
After the court’s ruling, Lee spokesperson Jade Byers said in a statement Monday that the governor’s office is “encouraged by this positive step to give teachers control of their own hard-earned paycheck.”
The association has argued the dues deductions come with “no appreciable burdens or costs” for school districts. It says member teachers have had the option to have dues taken from their paychecks, and the vast majority of them have done so.
The Tennessee Education Association has also said it’s not a union — it’s a professional organization that advocates on a wide range of issues for educators. The state has already stripped key rights associated with unions for public school teachers.
A 2011 state law 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.
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