Bill prohibiting union payroll deduction passes committee — with a twist

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Senator Robert Nichols
Senator Robert Nichols

Legislation that would prohibit state and local government from collecting dues for public unions passed the Texas Senate Business & Commerce Committee Sunday and now moves on for debate before the full Senate.

While the union paycheck bill has had neither the media spotlight nor the blazing debate of the “bathroom bill” during the special session, the debate over this legislation is one that has been a long grind for both sides who have argued the issue for several years.

Supporters of the bill 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.

Its opponents see political maneuvering by those pushing the legislation. Many public union members say this is yet another effort to tear down unions in a state stocked with elected leaders who are no fans of collective bargaining.

It may not be surprising that the committee vote fell along party lines, with the Republicans in favor and Democrats against — with one surprise twist.

Republican Robert Nichols of Jacksonville voted against the bill.

It’s a twist because Nichols, who is up for election in 2018, voted in favor of similar legislation during this year’s regular legislative session, as well as during the 2015 legislative session.

Nichols’ vote also comes in the wake of an overwhelming majority vote by GOP voters on the 2016 Republican Primary ballot. Republicans statewide said ‘yes’ to the tune of nearly 83-percent when answering the question, whether “Texas should prohibit governmental entities from collecting dues for labor unions through deductions from public employee paychecks.”

In two counties that Nichols represents — Nacogdoches and Cherokee — that tally was even higher, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Nichols’ legislative office declined to comment on Monday, but a spokeswoman told the Texas Monitor that if the senator made a statement on the issue, she would make that public.

The most heated part of the Sunday committee debate centered around wording in the legislation that would exempt police and fire unions from the bill, allowing state and local governments to continue to collect members’ dues for those unions.

Some supporters of the bill said the carve-out was because fire and police unions seldom use their dues for political harassment — unlike the teachers’ unions and other public unions.

Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who is sponsoring the union bill for the special session, told the committee that the exception is only “for first responders,” a very small piece of the public union pie across Texas.

In addition, Hughes said Sunday, “It’s best to get the government out of this process. Having the government involved, collecting, remitting, doesn’t seem appropriate.”

Committee member John Whitmire, D-Houston, argued that this legislation amounted to more government involvement, not less.

Cynthia Cole, the executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Houston, testified at the hearing and said she agreed with Whitmire.

“You should have a choice to determine how you spend the money that you earn,” she said. “If you want to be a part of the Mickey Mouse Club, you should be able to have the right to do that. This bill… puts government in your face.”

Rusty Brown of Granbury also testified. He is a vice-president of several firms and supported the legislation. He argued that having the government take money from paychecks is outdated.

Indeed, having taxpayers — through a local government — pay for payroll deductions for union dues isn’t necessary because the technology exists to have union members pay union dues themselves automatically, just like you might make a credit card or automobile payment.

“So the real opposing argument is simply one of the classics of human nature: That’s how we’ve always done it, so let’s just keep doing it this way,” Brown said.

See Sunday’s full testimony here.

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

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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.

100 COMMENTS

    • There is nothing “forced” in this. Teachers choose to join organizations for liability insurance, continuing education, and legal advice. We have been allowed to send our dues in from our checks through payroll deduction.

      Tx teachers are not unionized and are prohibited from collective bargaining.

  1. Tax payers do not pay for teacher “union” dues. Even when deducted from my pay check, it still comes out of my salary! It is a voluntary deduction, just like any extra insurance I elect to take.

  2. And democrat John Whitmire of Houston says that this bill which gets government entities out of the business of the business of collecting and remitting union dues represents more government involvement – not less. LOL.

    And with Houston and other municipalities attempting to balance their budgets the firefighters dig in their heals and attempt to get their bloated pensions restored. We certainly shouldn’t be collecting their dues and making it easier for their union to fight for more and more.

    • Austin passing legislation prohibiting anything a locally controlled, elected board wants to do is excessive government. My city council is answerable to me and I can go speak before them easily and without undue hardship. Now Austin is going to prohibit them from doing as they see fit?? Government overreach at its worst. Any official who votes for this will lose my vote.

    • Unless you are a union member unions are not your friend. They push for higher wages and larger pensions both of which drive our taxes higher. It also makes it so much more difficult to get rid of poorly preforming, lazy, or incompetent employees. People who work in local, state, or federal jobs shouldn’t be allowed to join a union.

    • Ken teachers in Texas don’t have unions, we have professional organizations. All we wanted was to have our dues deducted from our checks. This costs the State nothing. It was a way for those in power to stop us from uniting!

    • Ken Barnard I understand where you are coming from and largely agree, but you cannot throw all unions under the bus. Unions have a place in our society. Without them, many safety improvements in a variety of professions would have never been possible.

      The International Association of Firefighters is largely responsible for safety improvements in our profession. Even today, Cities and Counties would forgo safety initiatives that are in place if they weren’t policed by the watchful eyes of the union.

      My decision to have my union dues payroll deducted by my employer and the expense of the union should be between the city, union and me. Austin stepping in is a gross overreach and simply proves that we have too much governmental control from the state.

    • I see you were a school teacher at one point. Surely, you understand how underpaid and overworked teachers are? Teachers need a unified voice to protect them from becoming a slave of the state. Oh wait, even with the union they are.

      Oh, and as for barring local, state, and federal employees from joining unions, you might want to brush up on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

    • Ken Barnard. Bloated pensions? Then why don’t you (or didn’t) get up off your butt and join either the FD or become a LEO. They put their lives on the line everyday! Do you or did you? Aren’t these contributory systems?

  3. So the Union members have to send in their dues instead of using tax payers dollars to collect them as a payroll deduction​. Sounds fair to me. I don’t think I should have to pay for that service.

  4. This is not what the people wanted. Instead it is a discriminatory law , some can do it but others can’t. This is the worst kind of law any politician can come up with. I expect my representatives to vote against this bill since it has been changed to a discriminatory law.

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