Tomorrow, the Legislature will vote on a payroll deduction bill that will not only gut teachers’ unions but also public service unions like AFSCME, and local government employee unions. Gary G. Godsey is the executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), Texas’ largest network of educators. We are pleased to bring you this op-ed about the harm this bill will do to Texas unions.
On Thursday, May 7, during Teacher Appreciation Week, the Texas Senate passed a bill that would take away teachers’ ability to safely and conveniently pay dues to employee organizations that help support and protect their careers. Senate Bill (SB) 1968 prohibits payroll deductions for public employee unions as well as non-union associations in all political subdivisions, including school districts, across the state.
Texans routinely use payroll deduction to pay for everything from charitable donations to health care premiums. In fact, many corporations allow employees to contribute to their corporate political action committees and corporate foundations along with multiple other vendors using this method. Payroll deduction is easy, safe, and reliable and helps prevent identity theft.
Senator Joan Huffman, the bill’s author, has said that the state should not be expending resources for this purpose; however, the fact is that payroll deductions result in no additional costs to the state or other political subdivisions of the state (like school districts). First, districts are already managing numerous deductions with multiple vendors, and second, all administrative fees, if any, are covered by the employee by statutory law.
Given that Texas is a right-to-work state, this bill at best unnecessary and at worst harmful to public employees, who should be allowed to determine how they handle their own money. The largest group affected by the bill is the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), which is nonunion. ATPE has more than 100,000 members who, like thousands of other state employees, rely on payroll deductions to pay their premiums to professional organizations and other nonprofit causes they support. ATPE has strongly opposed the bill, and as a nonunion entity, operates with a philosophy of collaboration, not conflict, in public education policy.
In Texas, only a few public employees, including police officers and firefighters, can unionize and gain the right to collectively bargain at the local level. Despite this, police and firefighter unions—the only actual public employee unions in the state—are exempted from this “anti-union” bill. Interestingly, these exempted groups also oppose the bill.
It is clear from the legislators’ discussions on SB 1968 and the stated preference for some groups over others that this bill is politically motivated, and its author is willing to put political interests ahead of what’s best for the state’s hard-working employees, including teachers.