Texas Senate Considering Bill That Could Financially Kill Public-Sector Unions

Senator Joan Huffman
Sen. Joan Huffman/Facebook

A bill filed by Texas State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston) could prove to be the financial death penalty for many public-sector labor unions across the state. The bill, SB 1968, was filed at the very end of the bill filing period for this Legislative Session last Friday, and would end the practice of automatic payroll deductions for labor union dues for the majority of public-sector unions.

SB 1968 amends Chapter 617, Texas Government Code, to add a new Section 617.006, titled “Prohibition on Collection of Labor Organization Dues,” as follows:

Except as provided by Sections 141.008 and 155.001, Local Government Code, and Sections 403.0165 and 659.1031, Government Code, the state or a political subdivision of the state may not deduct or withhold, or contract to deduct or withhold, from an employee’s salary or wages payment of dues or membership fees to a labor organization or other similar entity, including a trade union, labor union, employees’ association, or professional organization.

Among the exceptions included in this bill are labor unions representing those who are “employed by a state agency in a professional law enforcement or firefighting capacity, or an individual employed by a state agency in a capacity that meets the definition of ’emergency medical services personnel’ as that term is defined by Section 773.003, Health and Safety Code.”

In essence, what SB 1968 would do is prohibit labor union dues from being automatically withheld from the paychecks of government employees, except for police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services personnel. This would apply to state, county, and municipal employees, including employees of community colleges, universities, and school districts.

Texas is a right-to-work state, but federal law requires that employees must be allowed to collectively organize. There is, however, no requirement that the government collect dues on the unions’ behalf. If passed, the state of Texas, as well as the county and municipal governments, would likely save money due to no longer having the administrative costs associated with collecting the union dues, keeping records, and disbursing the funds to the unions.

Breitbart Texas spoke with Preston Streufert, Sen. Huffman’s Legislative Director, about SB 1968. According to Streufert, the inspiration for this bill came from constituents within Huffman’s district as well as from watching the labor union reforms passed by Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin).

State Rep. Gary Elkins (R-Houston) has filed a bill in the House, HB 1749, that similarly abolishes automatic paycheck withdrawals for public labor unions, in addition to some other reforms to the “meet and confer” process by which a union applies to be the sole representation for a specific government agency or group of employees. Streufert said that Huffman wanted to bring more transparency to the “meet and confer” process, but did not want to make radical changes to it at this time.

Streufert told Breitbart Texas that SB 1968 would make no changes to the legal status of labor unions or place any new restrictions on their membership, but would merely prohibit government entities from collecting dues on the labor union’s behalf. Any employee who wished to pay dues to the union would still be free to do so, but would have to make that payment directly.

“State resources cannot be used for a campaign,” said Streufert, whether that is “politically one direction or the other,” describing SB 1968 as “being consistent” with that principle. He noted that this reform would put public-sector labor unions in the same position as all other advocacy groups that do not have the benefit of automatic payroll withdrawals to fill their coffers.

Wisconsin’s Act 10, which passed in 2011, ended the collection of public employee labor union dues by automatic paycheck withdrawals, among other substantive reforms. A Washington Examiner article by Byron York called the law “the most devastating blow ever struck to union domination of public services,” noting that the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) had said that they had lost 70 percent of their membership in Wisconsin after Act 10 was passed.

Streufert noted that they had not yet completed the research on the full financial impact that SB 1968 could have on the affected unions, but acknowledged that a number of unions were collecting hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars every year from their members’ paychecks under the current system.

As one example, Breitbart Texas examined the financial report from the Houston Federation of Teachers, a division of the AFL-CIO representing teachers in the Houston area. According to the Form LM-2 Labor Organization Annual Report that the Houston Federation of Teachers must file with the U.S. Department of Labor, this union had 5,175 members during the last fiscal year (July 2013 through June 2014) and they paid between $16.60 to $24.10 per pay period in dues. This resulted in a total of $3,096,739 collected by the union in dues from its members.

So if one union representing the teachers in one city is collecting over three million dollars annually, the impact of this legislation statewide will likely be many millions of dollars.

No other advocacy group on the right or the left — for example, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the NRA, or a local tea party organization, etc. — is able to financially support itself by having the State of Texas collect automatic withdrawals from government employees’ paychecks.

If SB 1968 passes, the financial impact on Texas’ public-sector labor unions would likely be substantial, and would significantly reduce the resources they would have to influence upcoming elections.

A 2012 report by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, “DUES AND DEEP POCKETS: Public-Sector Unions’ Money Machine,” noted that public-sector unions “bring vast resources to their political activities:”

They make direct donations to candidates and parties, fund issue ads in parallel campaigns, provide get-out-the-vote ground operations, run campaigns for and against ballot measures, and engage in extensive lobbying efforts.

Public-sector unions also differ from most interest groups in their allegiance to a single party and a single agenda in debates about the role of government. They are focused on a few key issues relating to the government jobs of their members: more government employment and thus higher taxes and more government services. They consistently favor referenda that increase taxation and government spending. And public-sector unions give money, volunteers, and other support almost exclusively to candidates of the Democratic party.

Breitbart Texas spoke with Bill Peacock, the vice president of research and the director of the Center for Economic Freedom at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) about SB 1968. “There’s no reason that the government should be collecting dues for unions,” said Peacock. “No other groups have this advantage and it really pits state employees against the taxpayers. The government collects for the unions, and then the unions use that to collect more money from the state…it’s not fair or equitable.”

Currently, SB 1968 is waiting to see if it gets referred to committee, at which time supporters and opponents of the bill will be able to offer testimony. Streufert told Breitbart Texas that a representative from a police union had contacted their office, wanting to make sure that the exception in the bill for law enforcement unions was iron-clad, and a representative from Texas’ AFSCME chapter had reached out wanting to discuss the bill as well.

Breitbart Texas will continue to follow this story.

[Disclosure: Sarah Rumpf was previously employed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.]

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.


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