Teachers and other education employees were joined today by other groups of public employees in a solid wall of opposition to state legislation that would take away their freedom to have professional dues voluntarily deducted from their paycheck. The display of solidarity came in a Texas Senate hearing on SB 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). Even unions not yet affected by the bill, such as state and local police associations, came out strongly against SB 13, declaring that they don’t appreciate the attempt to pit them against teachers and have already been threatened with inclusion in the bill if they dare oppose it.
The hearing stripped away several layers of obfuscation about what is at issue with this bill. Sen. Huffman conceded that payroll deduction costs taxpayers nothing. She conceded that there is no evidence showing anyone has been coerced to pay dues. She professed to have a principled objection to any government role in “collecting” union dues, yet she could not explain why she then proposes to let police, firefighters, and providers of emergency medical services continue to have payroll deduction of their organizational dues. Pressed by fellow senators of both parties to explain the inconsistency, she said these first responders “serve the community” and “don’t generally interfere with the business entities of the state of Texas.”
In other words, under Huffman’s bill, teachers, other school employees, correctional officers, Child Protective Service workers, and other public employees stand to lose their freedom to choose payroll deduction because certain private business interests and their ideological helpmates want to suppress resistance to their political agenda. High on the avowed agenda of these groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and Empower Texans are causes like holding down wages and promoting school privatization.
Testifying in defense of voluntary dues deduction and helping to lay bare the purely political motivation of SB 13 were these stalwart Texas AFT members from across Texas:
- Morgan Howard, a teacher from Amarillo ISD;
- Traci Dunlap, a teacher from Austin ISD;
- Clari Moore-Gil, a paraprofessional from Wichita Falls ISD;
- Andrew Dewey, a retired teacher from Houston ISD;
- Valarie Brown, a teacher from Round Rock ISD; and
- Lisa Pannell, a transportation staffer from Austin ISD.
Each one testified from a personal perspective on the unjustified discrimination against education employees embodied by SB 13. As Valarie Brown put it, education employees “serve the community” and serve as “first responders,” too, meeting the needs of the schoolchildren of Texas.
One parent testifying against SB 13 asked a pointed question that elicited no answer from Sen. Huffman: “What’s it doing for the average citizen?” The many public employees testifying against the bill also gained backing from the Pastors for Texas Children, a 2,000-member group of ministers who have come together in defense of public education. Speaking for them, Rev. Larry Bethune of University Baptist Church in Austin said SB 13 is “an attack on teachers’ voices” being mounted by those who want to channel public education funds to private interests. That label—an “attack on teachers”—was applied to SB 13 by many other witnesses as well.
You can help make that label stick by adding your voice to the outcry against this bad legislation. Contact your state legislator before the planned committee vote on SB 13 this Thursday via: an online letter and/or a direct connection to your state senator’s office.