Bill targeting government employee union dues heads to Senate

7:29 p.m Sunday, July 23, 2017 Texas News & Politics
Ralph Barrera
Louis Malfaro, the secretary-treasurer of Texas American Federation of Teachers, leads the large crowd of public school teachers from across Texas as they rallied on the south steps of the State Capitol on March 13. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A Senate panel approved a bill 6-3 Sunday that would prohibit payroll deductions of labor organization dues.

Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville was the only Republican to vote against the bill.

Those speaking against the bill during the three-hour hearing of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee included teachers, health workers and correctional officers. Senate Bill 7 doesn’t apply to first responders, police and firefighters, but people from those professions also spoke against the bill.

“Police and firefighters would not have the ability to have dues deduction if it wasn’t for teachers. They were the first to have it,” said Ken Casaday, head of the Austin Police Association. “I’m a union leader that tends to lean to the right and I’m very disappointed in the Republican Party for making this a top issue. It disgusts me. This is a local control issue, not a state issue.”

A similar bill filed during the regular legislative session passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

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Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said that SB 7 is meant to cut out governmental entities from being used to collect dues for such groups.

“It’s important that the government not be in the business of collecting and remitting the dues,” Hughes said. “Nothing prohibits the public employee from joining or paying dues to any organization.”

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said the bill is politically motivated and that police and firefighter unions have been cut out because they hold more political clout, not because their members’ jobs are more dangerous than other employees as supporters have said.

He said he was concerned that employees who don’t have bank accounts would not be able to join a labor group.

“I hope that all of us will sit up and take recognition that it’s time for us to … set politics aside and try to govern this state for the vast majority of Texans, some often don’t even vote,” Whitmire said.

Employee groups said during the hearing that their financial reports are available online through Guidestar and that negligible tax dollars are spent on payroll deductions.

Valarie Brown, an elementary school teacher in Austin, said that the bill would discourage teachers, who she said are among the front line workers when it comes child abuse and hunger, from organizing.

“They’re going after the underpaid, and actually predominantly female professions,” she said.