State Senate gives green light to union dues bill

After nearly four hours of public testimony earlier this week, the Senate State Affairs Committee on Thursday recommended to the full Senate a bill that would end the state’s practice of collecting dues from public employees for certain unions and other organizations through automatic payroll deductions.

Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston’s Senate Bill 13 would apply to state and government employees such as teachers, prison officers and child protective services workers, while exempting police, fire and emergency first responders and charities. The exemptions, Huffman said, were due to those groups serving communities with “great honor and distinction.”

The battle lines on SB 13 were finalized during Monday’s hearing, with more than 50 people testifying on the bill. Critics argued the legislation was discriminatory and aimed to pick winners and losers among the state’s public sector unions, while supporters said the bill was needed to end involvement of the State in the collection of union dues.

Most of the opposition came from public school teachers with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the largest teachers’ association in the state.

“[SB 13] is about silencing teachers and keeping them out of the political arena,” said RUTF Executive Director Gary Godsey, adding that if the true purpose of the bill was to end automatic deductions from payments, it would apply to all state employee unions.

Texas is a right-to-work state, which means employees are not required to pay dues or join unions and other organizations. Employees must elect to have union dues deducted from their salary.

Godsey declared SB 13, which was rejected by the committee along party lines Thursday, would have a “chilling effect” on membership of teachers’ associations and other unions that rely heavily on payroll deductions.

Other groups testified in support of the bill, including the Texas chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

“It can be inconvenient for a group to have to collect their own dues for half a second,” said Annie Spilman, the group’s legislative director. “But I still haven’t heard a good argument as to why these groups feel entitled to ask the government to collect their dues when we know their membership dues revenue pays for political advocacy.”

Union lobbying efforts, she added, are often “very anti-business” and “anti-employer”.

Huffman introduced a similar bill last session, but the bill ultimately died in the House State Affairs Committee. This time around, the bill is moving faster after Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared it a legislative priority.

The next stop on SB 13 is the full Senate floor. According to the Texas Municipal League, the bill would have no tax impact on cities or the state.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas Association of Business, and the Texas Municipal League have financially supported The Texas Tribune. A full list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Norman D. Briggs