Texas public employee unions under attack, launch fight back

Texas is the latest state where Republicans are trying to stifle the voices of public employees.

When Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he was calling a special session of the state legislature, he presented a 19-item agenda that included a ban on voluntary payroll deduction of public employee union dues.

Those affected would be teachers, public school employees, and state and local government employees. Police officers and firefighters are exempt.

The purpose of the bill is to weaken public employee unions by reducing their funding. If Abbott’s ban passes, unions will have fewer resources resulting in a weaker collective voice for public employees.

“Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, want to make it harder for public workers to have a strong, effective union,” said the Texas State Employee Union CWA Local 6186 in a statement about the proposed bans. “They know that without a strong union of state workers and retirees standing up to them, state services will be left unprotected against privatization efforts and our pensions will be vulnerable to attacks.”

When the special session began on July 18, two lawmakers filed companion bills,  SB 7 and HB 156, that seek to ban voluntary payroll deduction.

Those bills are similar to two bills that became law in two Republican dominated states.

Republicans in Oklahoma passed a ban that targeted public school teachers in 2015, and Republicans in Michigan in 2012 passed  a ban that targeted public employees and public school teachers.

The discourse about the ban has been dominated by right wing talking points, much of which is inaccurate.

For example, when Gov. Abbott announced that he was adding the ban on voluntary payroll deductions to the special session’s agenda, he said that the ban would save taxpayers from paying for payroll deduction.

In fact, voluntary payroll deduction costs taxpayers nothing.

The Texas Government code clearly states that employees and their organization are the ones who bear the cost of voluntary payroll deduction.

Also a fiscal note for SB 7 stated that the ban would have no financial impact on the state or local governments.

In other words, the ban won’t save the state, local governments, or school districts any money because voluntary payroll deduction isn’t costing them any money.

In another instance, the executive vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right wing advocacy group, wrote in the Dallas Morning News that the ban would stop “the state from automatically collecting membership dues for government-employee labor unions.”

The fact is that in Texas there is no such thing as automatic dues collection for state employees. To enroll in payroll deduction, a state employee must complete and sign a payroll deduction authorization form before payroll deduction begins.

An employee is free to discontinue payroll deduction at any time.

The author also incorrectly describes payroll deduction as an opt out choice for an employee. In other words according to the author, union dues are automatically deducted unless an employee opts out of payroll deduction.

Once again, the author is incorrect. Payroll deduction doesn’t begin automatically. It is an opt in, not an opt out choice.

 

The author also blames voluntary payroll deductions for high  local property taxes.

It’s true that local property taxes in Texas are too high, but it’s not because of voluntary payroll deduction or teachers’ unions. It’s because the state has been shirking its responsibility to provide an equal public education to all students.

“It’s indisputable that we’re funding education at the lowest level the state’s ever funded it before and we’re doing it on the back of the taxpayers,” said Republican lawmaker Dan Huberty to the Austin American Statesman during the special session.

Despite the weak evidence about the need for a ban on voluntary payroll deduction, SB 7 passed out of the Senate within 10 days after the session began.

But it met a lot of resistance from employees affected by the ban.

At a hearing on the bill conducted by the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, more than 130 people either testified against SB 7 or came to the committee hearing and signed a form indicating their opposition.

Among those testifying against the bill, were representatives of public safety unions that will be exempt from the ban. They worried that the ban will be extended to them at some time in the future.

The fight to stop the ban now goes to the House of Representatives.

Teachers and public employees have been organizing to mobilize opposition to the bill in the House.

The House version of SB 7, HB 156, was filed by Rep. Jason Issac who represents a district just south and west of Austin.

Teachers and public employees unions are urging their members who live in Rep. Issac’s district to call him and voice their opposition to the bill.

“This bill would strip state workers of our right to determine where our hard earned money goes by no longer allowing us to have our union membership dues deducted from our paychecks,” states a letter to Texas State Employee Union (TSEU) members in Rep. Issac’s district.

“It is very urgent for every TSEU member who lives in Rep. Issac’s district. . . to voice their opposition to this bill,” continues the letter.

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