Original Author: Bingham, Pamela
Date of Material: 04/20/2000
Prohibition Against Collective Bargaining
Reviewed Date: 06/22/2021
MTAS was asked for a brief opinion with respect to the authority of local governments to enter into collective bargaining agreements with various employees.
You have requested an brief opinion with respect to the authority of local governments to enter into collective bargaining agreements with various employees. As we discussed on the telephone, the long-standing principle in Tennessee is that absent express statutory authority, municipalities may not enter into collective bargaining agreements. Weakley County Electric System v. Vick, 309 S.W.2d 792 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1957); see alsoFulenwider v. Firefighters Association Local Union 1784, 649 S.W.2d 268 (Tenn. 1982). The State Attorney General concurs with this view. See Op. Tenn. Atty. No. 95-036, which is attached for your convenience and Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. No. 79- 172. As noted in the first opinion, the Legislature has enacted only two acts authorizing collective bargaining in Tennessee: Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-5-601 -613, relative to the Education Professional Negotiations Act (teachers) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 7-56-101, et seq. (local transportation systems). Absent additional authorizing legislation, local governments may not enter into collective bargaining agreements with employees.
In 1998, the Attorney General was asked whether certain custodians employed by the Hamilton County Department of Education could join or form a union. The answer is yes - public employees are free to form or join a union or an association; however such a union would still lack the authority to engage in collective bargaining with the city. The Attorney General said: “Public employees may organize or join a labor organization for the purpose of selecting representatives to meet and confer with public employers on matters affecting employees. This representation cannot be exclusive or for the purpose of entering into a collective bargaining agreement. (emphasis added) Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. No. 98-168.