Why Is Messing with Your Freedom to Use Payroll Deduction on the Governor’s Agenda?

Gov. Greg Abbott has yet to follow up on his informal announcement of a special session of the state Legislature starting July 18 with the issuance of a formal proclamation that would allow bill filing to begin. Nonetheless, Abbott has put out a series of press releases applauding Senate and House members for  announcing their intention to file specific proposals the governor wants to see passed.

For instance, a June 29 Abbott press release lavished praise on Sen. Bryan Hughes (Republican of Mineola) and Rep. Jason Isaac (Republican of Dripping Springs) for agreeing to carry “legislation prohibiting use of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues.” The legislation supposedly will resemble unsuccessful bills from the recently concluded regular session—SB 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (Republican of Houston) and HB 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (Republican of Houston—that would have banned voluntary dues deductions by education employees and other state and local public employees for all manner of professional associations, while making an exception for police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.

One of the big problems with this legislation is that it attacks a non-existent issue. Unions and other entities that receive voluntary payroll dues deductions already are obligated by state law to cover the administrative cost of processing the deductions. The proposal actually has nothing to do with saving taxpayers’ money.

So what’s really going on here? The editorial board of the Houston Chronicle explains the matter well in this July 3 commentary:

Union dues:  Lawmakers should reject plan to limit teacher payroll process.

Teachers don’t get many breaks that make their lives slightly easier. So why is Gov. Greg Abbot trying to eliminate one that costs the taxpayer nothing? Politics — not reform — is the answer.

For the past few decades, there’s been a convenient way for teachers to handle association and union dues, for those who choose to join. Along with a host of other deductions, teachers who so desire can allow their respective school districts to just deduct the fee from their paychecks.

For the upcoming special legislative session Abbott, Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, want to take away the ability of public employees — with teachers comprising the largest group — to use payroll deductions for their union, labor organization and/or professional association dues. Their fellow lawmakers should refuse to support this effort.

Payroll deductions are routine and common, and competent payroll systems can easily handle deductions for union or professional association dues. The organizations receiving the dues are responsible for the administrative costs with no cost to the taxpayer, according to a fiscal note attached to a similar bill filed by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, that died during the regular session.

While it’s a simple matter for school districts to issue deductions on a payroll process that they’re already paying for, the law will force unions and other professional associations to create a whole new billing and collections infrastructure for their members. This will be costly, and unions will likely lose significant membership, at least initially.

Texas is a right-to-work state, and teachers don’t have to join unions or professional associations. But for those who do, the Texas American Federation of Teachers, the Association of Texas Professional Educators and similar groups play an important role in giving teachers a voice in a state that often seems reluctant to listen to them.

Although the bill to be drafted by Hughes and Isaac hasn’t been filed, it’s expected that it will be cut from the same cloth as the Huffman bill and will exempt police officers and firefighters unions from its terms. “It’s really telling that the Legislature is willing to put tape over the mouths of teachers, who are more likely female, while exempting male-dominated professions,” says Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers.

Educator groups often don’t always see eye-to eye with the Republican-controlled Legislature on issues like school funding and vouchers. As such, this feels like a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist — unless in lawmakers’ eyes, the problem is teachers having a strong voice.

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