On Thursday, the State Affairs Committee of the Texas Senate considered legislation that would strike a major blow to public-sector unions in the Lone Star State. Senate bill 1968, authored by State Sens. Joan Huffman (R-Brazoria) and Bob Hall (R-Canton), would prohibit governmental entities from automatically deducting labor union dues from most public employee payrolls.
“This bill gives more transparency to public sector unions and their political activities,” said Huffman.
Though Texas is a right-to-work state, federal law requires that employees must be allowed to collectively organize. However, the law does not require that governments enable and encourage unions by collecting dues on their behalf.
If passed, the state of Texas, as well as the county and municipal governments, would save money by eliminating the administrative costs associated with collecting the union dues, keeping records, and disbursing the funds to the unions. The law would apply to state, county, and municipal employees, including employees of community colleges, universities, and school districts. Those same unions would likely lose contributions from employees not wishing to cut them a check every month.
Testimony on the legislation was sharply divided. Brian E. Olsen, President of the United Criminal Justice Employees of Texas (UCJET), testified in favor of the bill.
“Unions don’t need government taking care of their own business. This is not ‘union busting,’ it’s requiring them to manage their own administration,” said Olsen. He further articulated that many public sector unions ship funds out of state and support liberal causes. “It’s time to stop coddling big government in Texas by subsidizing unions.”
Unions have historically supported liberal candidates and Democrats, often throwing significant financial, volunteer, and media resources to support their elections. However most union members, once given the chance, prefer donating to candidates and organizations on their own rather than have a bureaucracy act for them. After passage of a similar law in Wisconsin, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) lost about 70 percent of their membership.
Beth Cubriel, the executive director of the Republican Party of Texas testified in favor of the bill as well.
“SB 1968 is about the proper role of government and asking public sector unions to play by the same rules as everybody else,” Cubriel said. “Imagine if the Republican Party of Texas had a similar arrangement as the unions do. Would they support the government collecting political dues from public sector workers? Or what if a nonprofit, like the NRA, had a similar ability to use the government to collect its membership dues?”
There is an argument that governments are collecting dues to be later used to fund political activity, sometimes in ways that influence how those governments then deal with unions on matters such as pay and working conditions. The National Federation of Independent Businesses’ Texas chapter, which argues that government collection of union dues “can ultimately be used to organize against local businesses.”
“By collecting dues for a union or any other group, the government makes a de facto endorsement of their policy positions, and that is a direct conflict of interest,” said Annie Spilman, the legislative director of NFIB-Texas.
Huffman’s legislation passed out of Committee on Monday.