An anti-union measure that some worry is unconstitutional has now been sent to the Texas House of Representatives by the Senate, moving much more quickly through the process than a similar proposal did during the last regular session of the Legislature in Austin two years ago.
If it becomes law, Senate Bill 13 would prohibit the collection of union dues as automatic deductions from certain government paychecks. Teachers and corrections officers are included in the proposed crackdown but police and fire unions are not, prompting arguments from critics who say the law should apply to all or none of these groups that engage in political activity.
Because of those exemptions, Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, and others said the bill seems unfairly targeted at certain groups, particularly teachers.
“Why don't associations or unions just collect their own dues?" asked Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, as the hours-long debate opened. When pressed about why police and fire unions are exempt from the bill she authored, Sen. Huffman said it was because of the “unique position that they hold in our society” in which they risk their lives daily.
Prior to the vote, leaders of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas complained that school district officers were still included in the bill and the group had been misled by Senate leadership. After that, Sen. Huffman changed the bill on the Senate floor to exclude those officers.
While no senator disagreed with Sen. Huffman’s characterization of the heroism of police and firefighters, that did not satisfy those who argue the bill would be unconstitutional if it isn’t applied across all groups equally. Union leaders as well as some Republicans have asked that very question.
For example, when the bill was heard in a Senate committee, Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, argued that it made little public policy sense to carve out certain unions or associations. “It seems like if this is a great thing, it’s great for everybody,” Estes said, later adding that he liked the bill better before the exemptions were added.
“By approving Senate Bill 13, the Senate majority made a selective attack on educators, Child Protective Services workers and certain other public employees who voluntarily join employee associations and unions for professional development and other reasons important to their job performance," said Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria.
On the other side of the argument, the National Federation of Independent Business – the trade association most vocal about this issue – was ecstatic about the vote in the Senate.
"NFIB/Texas applauds the Senate's passage of SB 13 regarding the union dues bill. By passing this legislation, the Senate recognizes the need for the government to be removed from collecting dues for public sector labor unions and some associations that utilize those dues for political advocacy efforts,” the NFIB said in a statement.
“Anti-business measures that are backed by government funded labor union groups, like the AFL-CIO, can be the ultimate demise for small businesses,” the NFIB said. “It only makes sense to level the playing field by asking unions to collect their own dues and revenue, just as small business and other business advocacy groups do."