Don’t restrict dues collections for Texas state employee unions

(Originally published, April 10, 2017, Dallas Morning News)

Written by
Micah Haley, Contributor

The issue of union dues and payroll deduction for public employees is a subject I know a thing or two about. I have been a state employee, currently a unit supervisor in Texas Department of Criminal Justice parole division, for 20 years. Nineteen years ago, I voluntarily authorized the Texas State Employees Union to deduct membership dues from my paycheck each month.

To join, I filled out a simple membership form that explained exactly how much my dues would be and what I was authorizing and for whom. I also knew full well that if I wanted to cancel my membership and stop having those dues deducted from paycheck, I could do so at any time by simply filling out another form. Contrary to Attorney General Kan Paxton’s claims, there were no bureaucratic roadblocks involved.

Through my 19 years of union membership, I have advocated not just for myself and my coworkers, but also for the public that depends on us to keep them safe, and the parolees who we work with every day. The union is how my coworkers and I engage with our elected leaders on the issues we face as state employees and public servants.

This advocacy costs taxpayers nothing, contrary to Paxton’s whopper that state funds were financing the collection of dues money. This myth has already been so thoroughly debunked that all other supporters of this legislation have already stopped making the claim, admitting the cost is negligible.

Paxton managed to personally insult me when he claimed first responders should be allowed to keep payroll deduction of dues. As a parole officer, I have worked with ex-felons on a daily basis for the last 20 years. I have spent most of my adult life protecting the public from danger. And parole officers are not unique among state workers in this. Caseworkers with Child Protective Services, employees in state hospitals and state supported living centers, corrections officers in state jails and youth detention centers, we all put our bodily safety on the line every day as we go to work for the people of Texas. Who is Mr. Paxton to say that our voices aren’t worthy to be heard in the Legislature? We should have the same rights afforded other public employees.

Another false claim put forward by Paxton is that my dues go to political purposes I am unaware of. Let me set Mr. Paxton straight: union dues are never used for political or campaign contributions of any kind. Our union has a separate fund for that, which I voluntarily contribute to completely apart from my membership dues.

Our union is a grassroots organization controlled by state employees ourselves through a democratic process. I am an elected leader of my union, representing North Texas on our executive board, which is comprised of other full-time state employees and retirees. The leadership of our union, along with our endorsements, and how we spend our resources is all decided on upon by our dues-paying members through frequent elections and membership meetings.

When Attorney General Paxton, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and other politicians attack public employee unions, they are really attacking me and my fellow state employees. We are the union, and no one should tell me how to spend my hard earned money.

Micah Haley represents North Texas on the executive board of the Texas State Employees Union and he is a unit supervisor for the TDCJ Parole Division in Dallas. Website: cwa-tseu.org

Paxton column that ran several days earlier in the Dallas Morning News…

We must eliminate automatic deduction of union dues from government worker paychecks

 Written by Ken Paxton, Contributor

Protecting workers’ rights is one of the government’s most important jobs. Unfortunately, many government workers are being taken advantage of by their own unions. Paycheck protection laws, like the bill currently before the Texas House, prevent workers from becoming ATMs for pet political causes that they do not support and help get the government out of the dues-collection business.

The Texas bill would end the “automatic deduction” of union dues for a large portion of government workers. Currently, government unions in Texas use the state payroll system to collect union dues. The unions then turn around and spend millions of dollars on partisan activities that are opposed by many dues-paying members.

There is a major constitutional problem here. The Supreme Court has ruled that workers cannot be forced to make political donations and are entitled to a refund of the share of their dues spent on politics.

However, actually getting a union to refund your dues is not easy. The burden is on the worker to track down the requirements for canceling an automatic deduction. The worker must then submit a formal request that complies with these requirements. Workers who trip over the bureaucratic roadblocks or simply give up do not get their money back.

The Texas bill shifts the power back to where it should be, in the hands of workers, not government unions. It calls on workers to opt in if they want to contribute to a union, rather than requiring them to opt out if they do not want their union dues to be deducted from their paychecks.

Workers can still give as much money as they wish to unions. Unions must simply collect contributions the way that other groups do, by obtaining the consent of individuals, not through automatic deductions from the government’s payroll system.

In his most recent State of the State address, Governor Greg Abbott called for an end to the government-backed payroll deductions for unions. “Taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to support the collection of union dues,” he said.

Abbott joined a long, bipartisan line of leaders, stretching back to President Franklin Roosevelt and AFL-CIO leader George Meany, who have warned against the unchecked power of government unions. The high taxes and out-of-control spending in California, New York, Illinois, and elsewhere, can be traced directly to public-sector unions.

Some argue that the Texas bill, which passed the Senate last week, is unconstitutional because it carves exceptions for state and local police and first-responders. What they are not telling you is that this same argument has been made and rejected in multiple federal cases.

As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently explained, “government-line drawing,” such as that involved in the Texas law, is commonplace and subject to “rational-basis” review. This constitutional standard, one of the easiest to satisfy, is met when the law is found to be rationally related to a legitimate government interest.

Here, federal courts have already found that exempting first-responders is justified by the public concern for labor peace among public safety employees. Of course, challengers are free to beat a dead horse. But if the past cases mean anything, opponents will not succeed in overturning this crucial and constitutional bill.

Ken Paxton is the attorney general of Texas. Website: texasattorneygeneral.gov