AUSTIN — Republican-backed legislation that would prohibit government agencies from allowing automatic payroll deductions for unions that historically vote Democrat was approved Thursday by the state Senate.
Senate Bill 1968 would allow the payroll deductions to continue for police, fire and emergency-services employees — groups that generally vote Republican in most parts of Texas — but would not allow them for other unions, such as those for teachers, construction trades and other unions.
Current law has allowed payroll deductions for city, county and state workers for many years.
Thursday’s vote was 20-11, along party lines.
“Government has no business collecting union dues,” said state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the author of the measure, denying that politics in any way were involved in her bill. “This will not affect charitable contributions in any way.”
Asked why police, fire and EMS organizations were exempted, Huffman said it was because they do not engage in political activities as much as other unions.
Democrats attacked the measure as a way to thwart union membership, a charge that Huffman denied. Several senators said police, fire and EMS unions that carry clout with GOP leaders in the Legislature opposed the proposal until they were exempted.
“You’re telling Texans that they no longer have the right to check a box to pay their union dues,” said Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio. “I don’t see how this helps Texans in any way.”
Huffman said union members can still pay their union dues other ways. “They can still enjoy their union membership and participate any way they want to,” she said.
Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said it appears that the bill “is targeting a few unions that have voting patterns that some may disagree with.” Huffman said there are no targets, except “for government to get out of the union business.”
“If unions wants to increase their membership, they can still do so,” she said. “They can collect dues on their own.”
Other Democrats suggested the bill is part of a national push by anti-union Republicans.
“There is a movement afoot across the country . . . to stifle unions by taking away this method for union membership. Isn’t that really the basis for this legislation?” said Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso. “I think this will discourage union membership.”
Huffman shot back: “Unions should collect their own dues.”
In addition to covering payroll deductions at government agencies, a Senate analysis of the bill shows it will also “protect employers from picketing when the employee’s entity is not involved in a labor dispute, keeps state resources from funding political campaigns and protects non-union employers from from union representatives intimidating their employees during a mandatory federal inspection.”
Union groups blasted the vote and pledged to fight the legislation in the Texas House.
“Employees should not lose their freedom to send part of their paycheck as dues to the professional organizations of their choice. Yet, that’s exactly what would happen under SB 1968, the bill to take away the right to payroll dues deduction from teachers, nurses, correctional officers, some firefighters and may other public servants,” said Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller.
“The author of the bill and the interests behind it say they are taking aim at employee organizations, but, actually, they are hitting and hurting the individual employees who would lose this safe and secure method of paying dues to the organizations of their choice. The only rationale offered for this legislation was the dislike of the viewpoints of the targeted employees, and we think that’s wrong.”