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Tennessee Unions: What you need to know

The right of workers in private employment to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers is guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and related federal laws. The NLRA is preemptive, meaning it supersedes state law in the areas it covers. However, in areas not covered by the NLRA, such as the rights of public employees and the rights of private employees who are not engaged in interstate commerce, the states are free to make their own provisions. The federal protections are the governing law of the state for private employees engaged in interstate commerce. The following is a brief discussion of Tennessee law in areas not preempted by the NLRA.
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The National Labor Relations Act leaves to the states all questions involving the unionization of public employees. Tennessee does not have a comprehensive public employee's labor relations law. However, individual laws do address the rights of certain classifications of public employees, such as school teachers and transit employees.
Public school teachers. Tennessee's Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act of 2011 removes the right of teachers to bargain collectively. Instead, it mandates "collaborative conferencing" to discuss the terms and conditions of employment. If the collaborative conferencing results in a memorandum of understanding, that memorandum must be submitted to the board of education for approval. Teachers and their representatives do not ratify the memorandum. If the board of education and teachers or their representatives do not reach an agreement on any issue, the board may address the issue through board policy. Teachers do not have the right to strike. (TN Code Sec. 49-5-601et ...

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