[Updated 5/23.] Big business is very publicly wondering if Texas House Speaker Joe Straus will help them out, or side with big labor. As the Wall Street Journal put it on Saturday, “Straus will decide the fate of a bill on coerced dues payments.”
Texans tend to forget about labor unions, except as it relates to national politics and the “Not Texas” part of the United States. As a long-standing “right-to-work” state that historically doesn’t countenance compulsory union membership, we nonetheless allow labor unions to contract with governmental entities to automatically withhold dues from their members’ paychecks.
Legislation that passed the Texas Senate last week would prohibit state, county and municipal governments from collecting union dues from public employees’ paychecks. The only exception would be for unions representing fire, police, and emergency medical services employees.
While unions make up a tiny percentage of the Texas workforce, they have an outsized role in financing the Democratic Party. The WSJ reports:
Over the last three election cycles, Texas Democrats received 99% of the political contributions from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and 98% from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as part of a multi-union effort to “turn Texas blue.”
A 2010 opinion by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott found that the Texas State Teachers Association was prohibited from processing “payroll deductions for contributions to political committees.” (The TSTA is a member of the National Education Association, and while technically an “association” in Texas it is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.)
Compulsory withholding of dues is the lifeblood of the public sector unions. They don’t want to count on member employees having to write a check each month.
The Senate’s measure (SB1968) passed along party lines last week, 20-11, and was heavily supported by business interests. It now goes to the Texas House, where those same interests – as expressed by the WSJ – are worried about its fate.
Why are they worried? Again, quoting the WSJ:
Speaker Straus derailed an earlier version of this bill by sending it to a committee chaired by a Democrat, and the eyes of free-market Texans will be on him to see if he again sides with unions over workers. [Bold emphasis added.]
Will the Republican speaker “again” protect the funding source of Texas Democrats? With just over 20 days remaining in the legislative session, we will all know soon enough.
UPDATE: Straus finally “moved” in SB1968. On May 15 he has referred it to the State Affairs Committee chaired by Byron Cook (R-Corsicana).
UPDATE (May 23, 2015): State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) has announced that he would kill SB1968, despite the measure’s strong support from the state’s Republican Party, business groups, conservative activists and the senate. Even as Texas workers see their paychecks unprotected, Democrats keep a major source of their funding.