Will legislation stop union spigot? Texas teachers unions banked $200M since 2010

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At the Texas Capitol: Corpus Christi American Federation of Teachers

Teachers unions in Texas have collected at least $115.5 million so far this decade from educators and other school workers — and that figure is perhaps closer to $230 million, a Texas Monitor analysis of teacher association dues collection shows.

This analysis appears to be the first that provides a detailed number to how much money teachers unions raise in Texas.

The hundred-million-plus tally is likely to add fresh arguments to those fighting for and against legislation being debated in the Texas Legislature prohibiting state and local governments from collecting dues for public unions, dubbed the “paycheck protection” bill at the Capitol.

The Texas Monitor examined responses to public record requests sent to every Texas school district, including charter schools seeking to review the total number of payroll deductions sent to any union or employee association from 2010 through 2016.

Out of the 1,217 school districts contacted, 636 districts complied with the records request by the deadline. The total amount of dues that these 636 school districts have collected over the requested time period for the four largest teachers unions in Texas adds up to $115.5 million.

The total breakdown of money collected between 2010 and 2016 according to records:

  • The Association of Texas Professional Educators collected $35.2 million
  • The Texas State Teachers Association collected $32.4 million
  • The Texas American Federation of Teachers collected $31.0 million; and
  • The Texas Classroom Teachers Association collected $16.9 million

The school districts that complied with the request by the deadline account for 348,570 full-time personnel. That is just over half of all employees working in Texas school districts. Using that information as a starting point, one could extrapolate that teachers unions have collected as much as $228 million since 2010.

Supporters of the bill, who have been Republicans, say that the government should have no official role in collecting dues from public union paychecks since taxpayer money is used to do so. This is a common view in many other states that have passed similar legislation, such as Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Opponents of the Texas legislation dismiss that argument, saying that Texas state and local governments are allowed to bill the unions for any time and work done in the process of collecting union dues.

The Texas Monitor money analysis shows that perhaps the argument goes beyond those talking points because union money is also used to hire lobbyists to work the halls of the Texas Legislature and unions use their leverage to raise money that is used for political campaigns.

“From a practicality perspective, the Republicans know that to the extent that those dollars are used for politics… that it’s used for Democratic candidates attempting to defeat Republican candidates,” said Mark Jones, a Fellow of political science at Rice University.

Jones notes that Republicans are looking at the bill through a philosophical lens, too.

“They generally oppose unions, and don’t like that the government is facilitating the unions’ ability to collect dues,” he said.

But: “In many ways it’s a ‘twofer,’’ Jones said. “You can vote from a principled perspective as well as a pragmatic perspective.”

In Texas, union dues money goes to underwrite “representational activities,” such as mediation proceedings. This cash also supports the day-to-day operations of the unions, such as the salaries of union officials and mundane items such as office rentals, phones, and copy machines. A large chunk of this money goes to liability insurance, too.

In addition, for some teachers unions, a chunk of this money also flows out of state into the coffers of the D.C.-based national teachers’ unions. Indeed, too much money is funneled out of state, some top Texas union officials have privately lamented.

And while union dues cannot be used directly to support candidates, the money can be used to start up and support political action committees. This cash can also be used to pay for political mailers and phone calls to members’ homes, and other similar activities.

For example, the Association of Texas Professional Educators said they use none of their dues money to fund political candidates. Its members must give additional money beyond their dues if they want to support the union-backed candidates.

And plenty of teachers do exactly that through union PACs.

The Texas State Teachers Association, which is closely linked to the National Education Association gave more than $3 million to candidates and causes over the past 20 years, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics; The Texas Classroom Teachers Association gave $1.2 million; the Association of Texas Professional Educators gave $1.1 million, and; the Texas American Federation of Teachers, which is associated with the national American Federation of Teachers gave just under $1 million.

And it’s no secret that unions favor Democratic candidates.

On the national level, teachers union PACs overwhelmingly back Democrats.

Closer to home, unions back Democrats as well, but less stridently than on the national scene. Just over three-fourths of union campaign contributions went to Democrats since 2000, records show.

For example, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association spent more than $1 million to back Democratic state legislative candidates and $611,000 on Republicans over the past 20 years, according to an analysis from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. In addition, the Texas State Teachers Association has given $2.7 million to Democrats and $570,000 to Republicans, the same report shows.

Association of Texas Professional Educators lobbyist Mark Wiggins argues, though, that the paycheck legislation is more complex than a simple Republican vs. Democrat issue.

“It’s not so much a Republican thing as it is a policy thing,” Wiggins told The Texas Monitor. “One of the biggest debates we’re having at the capitol right now is over the privatization of the public school system, through vouchers and things that operate like that, such as the efforts to privatize public pensions.”

He said the backers of those policies are the ones that want to stop unions cold, and some union workers say that the Texas legislators pushing this bill are seeking to replicate what happened in Wisconsin.

A hotly contested 2011 law passed by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature stripped many perks and benefits from the public unions there. In part, that law put prohibitions on government employers withholding union dues from workers’ paychecks.

Now, union membership in Wisconsin is down nearly 40 percent.

“What they want to do is hand over our schools and retirement systems to private businesses,” Wiggins said. ”What better way to do that than to keep people who are defending schools out of the way.”

The Texas Senate last week passed its version of the bill by a 19-12 vote. No Democrats voted for the legislation and Republican State Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville broke with his party, joining the Democrats in a ‘no’ vote.

The debate now moves to the House.

Want more information?

Read and track the legislation here:

Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story referenced that union dues go to assist in collective bargaining. In Texas, it is illegal for any government entity, such as schools, to enter into any collective bargaining agreement with a union. The Texas Monitor regrets the error.

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Trent is an award-winning editor and reporter, who has previously worked The Denver Post, The (Nashville) Tennessean, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Most recently, he was the investigative producer for Houston’s KTRK-TV ABC-13. He was also the editor and founder of Texas Watchdog, a ground-breaking news group that paved the way for this project. Trent is a teacher of journalism skills, and has shown hundreds of reporters and citizen-journalists how to use public records, databases and journalism tools to keep a watchful eye on their own local government.

1088 COMMENTS

  1. I do not belong to a union as a teacher and never have. I belong to a teacher association. I have belonged to a teacher association in three states. I did so for the liability insurance. We have no right to strike or do other things that unions do.

    • And were do you think the unions bigwigs get their money, from the over worked and under paid teachers. Unions were good back in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s then they started out living there usefulness. It then became away for union bigwigs to get rich. I would rather see a teacher get all their money.

  2. As a former teacher (left the profession over 35 years ago), I was a member of a professional association. I left one of these organizations because of their politics and joined another because their political views were more in-line with my thinking. The main reason for being a member was professional liability insurance. As teacher, I wanted and needed the liability insurance to protect me in case a kid got hurt on field trip, hurt in the shop or I paddled their butt for misbehaving.

    • Ms. McCants, you clearly have strong opinions about this, and I’m curious as to why. I’ve spent my life trying to help other people’s kids get a good education, in spite of meeting state and federal government roadblocks every step of the way. I have a family to provide for; my own daughters go to public school and will go on to college. If I have an agenda to push, it’s just to get the state government to meet its constitutional obligation to properly provide for public education. At the same time, this profession isn’t a hobby, and teachers don’t want to be martyrs. We want the same things everyone else wants: decent wages for what we do, affordable health care, and good working conditions. Not only has the state failed to provide those things, they have attacked what we do and tried to poison the public against us…and you are a prime example of my claim. You are commenting on things about which you are not well-informed, and repeating the propaganda you’ve been fed by big government. I’m sorry you don’t like schools, and I can only imagine you have some ax to grind because you had a bad experience at some point, but that isn’t my fault. Blame big government. They have made public education what it is through decades of poor decisions.

    • Craig Gourley I am just stating what I have seen after having a child in public school and having removed my Grand children from public school and having friends who are teachers You sound like a teacher making assumptions you have no idea about

  3. ALL, and I mean ALL worker’s unions are nothing more than mafia controlled money sucking leeches that operate similarly to “politicians”. They promise all kinds of things and deliver BS while the worker’s pay them to do this crap. Maybe there was a time in the past where unions were helpful and useful but that time is definitely not today. They are a line item with a dollar amount attached to it.

    • I don’t disagree, but Texas educators don’t have a union. These are professional organizations, and they don’t cost Texas taxpayers anything. Joining one of these associations is equivalent to joining AARP. It’s certainly not any business of the state to restrict membership in these associations.

    • Thanks. I’m a little confused, Texas doesn’t have teacher “unions”, Texas has teacher “associations”. The author of this article seems to use both words interchangeably as though they have the same meaning. Would you happen to know if the teachers have ever gone on strike for any reason?

    • facts from the authorities. You are aware that the IRS says that these organizations are unions. Maybe that’s a technicality. But the Department of Labor concurs. They are literally in charge of informing the public on these things.

    • Teachers in Texas have never gone on strike; it’s not legal, for starters. And teachers here aren’t going to take actions like that because it’s harmful to kids and their families. Dept of Labor and IRS might refer to our associations as unions, but they are not unions in Texas; there might be branches of our associations that work as unions in union states, but that has nothing to do with Texas. I would also caution anyone who blindly trusts information coming from government “authorities” like Dept of Labor or IRS. These organizations are populated by people, so they are subject to the same political bias that has infected Washington forever, and they aren’t always honest or ethical (as when the IRS targeted Republicans during the Obama administration).

    • As a teacher who has worked 30 years, and someone who has lived here for 50, I’m telling you the truth about that article. We don’t have teacher unions in Texas, and that article is propaganda. I have no motive to lie about anything!

    • Actually Ida Lyon, I’ve been teaching in Texas for 30 years and know for a fact that there are no teachers unions in Texas. If there were unions here (with which I disagree), the things teachers are asking for wouldn’t be in the news. If you believe what this article claims, a little fact finding would do you good. It’s right-wing propaganda. I’m a Republican, but Gregg Abbott and Dan Patrick are both liars, and this article is their propaganda.

  4. Texas does not have teacher “unions.” Texas is a “right to work” state. Most teachers do join associations primarily for the liability insurance. But, unlike states with official teacher unions, Texas teachers cannot participate in collective bargaining or go on strike.

  5. If we were a union then the legislature wouldn’t even been in control of us. We are still the biggest voting block in the state and the nation. Our organization dues go to lobbyist and they are not doing enough for retired, current, and future teachers. Be careful of a sleeping dog.

  6. The Texas Monitor’s excuse for their mischaracterization of professional organizations as unions is that, well that’s what people think they are. Maybe because that’s what Texas Monitor says. But of course there is a vast difference in a union that can negotiate contracts with the state that include tenure and the right to strike, and a professional association that keeps its membership informed on what TEA and the legislature is doing. Notice how the Monitor is trying to leave the impression that the state has contributed millions of dollars to the “union” coffers. This is a dishonest website.

    • People can only go by the facts from the authorities. You are aware that the IRS says that these organizations are unions. Maybe that’s a technicality. But the Department of Labor concurs. They are literally in charge of informing the public on these things.

    • Luke Adams They are a “union” in name only–not in function. No union is allowed to negotiate contracts for school teachers and administrators in Texas. No Texas school teacher has the right to strike. They will be fired if they try it. It is literally illegal for Texas teachers to unionize. Teacher contracts are by district. The school boards have control over contracts except for salary minimums that are set by the Texas Education Agency–and not in negotiation with unions. Depending on the rules in the district, a teacher can be fired for any reason. My district let a few people go every year, and there is no recourse. I don’t know what your agenda is, but you are barking up the wrong tree.

    • Luke Adams, when Dan Patrick wakes up with a horse head in his bed, then maybe Texas teachers will be members of a union. Teachers in this state are not members of unions and most of us have no desire to be. We would, however, appreciate truth in reporting and a state government that would stop using propaganda to sway public opinion.

    • Cindy Mccants Ma’am, “all this money”–I paid around $100 a year out of my pocket to be a member of my organization. No one is begging the state to reimburse them for dues. These associations have staff to pay and expenses to send out newsletters. Texas teachers need protection from lawsuits because if a parent comes after them, their district will probably leave them on their own. This has nothing to do with whether or not teachers get raises. You will note that the money that was collected by the associations, which I have no idea if Monitor’s number is correct, is very little money over a decade and has nothing to do with state funds.

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