A fairly new group proposing tighter constraints on organized labor in Texas is starting a fresh push to pass legislation that would make life even tougher for unions in this right to work state.
Some business leaders are frustrated after a bill aimed at further reining in unions was unsuccessful at the Texas Capitol in 2015. The bill, which would have prohibited the automatic deduction of union dues from government paychecks, died in the closing days of the last legislative session. At that time, the Texas Senate passed it in “flawed form,” according to House leadership, while there were multiple other priority pieces of legislation facing critical deadlines.
The Texas Business Coalition, chaired by Houston janitorial executive Brent Southwell, was formed with passing this legislation in mind. The group includes the National Federation of Independent Business, Texas Retailers, the Building Owners and Managers Association, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas, and others. The Texas Association of Business, the largest group representing major employers, had been in the coalition but recently withdrew. The Association of Business still supports the policy position but will work independently on it.
During a recent hearing of the Senate State Affairs Committee, NFIB Texas Legislative Director Annie Spilman said 93 percent of the small business group’s membership believes the practice should be outlawed.
“We’re just asking these groups to collect their own dues. That’s it,” Spilman said. She said state and local governments are “partnering” with labor unions, “helping them strengthen their war chest.”
Business Coalition Chairman Southwell submitted written testimony in which he said “The fact is, public sector unionism in Texas is being used to finance extensive assaults on private Texas businesses.”
“In my case, the SEIU, a union funded and staffed in Texas by Local 1 in Chicago, used funds from the paychecks of city employees in Houston to attack my company,” Southwell said. “Having gained a toehold in the private sector, it has continued the assault on PJS (Professional Janitorial Service) for more than 10 years.”
“They tried to bury him and put him out of business,” Spilman said of Southwell’s story and the recent jury verdict he won in Houston against SEIU.
A major policy sticking point has been – and will continue to be – determining which unions would be exempted from legislation barring the automatic deduction of dues.
In the last legislative session in 2015, the version of the bill passed by the Senate exempted unions representing first responders – namely police and fire fighters – but not teachers. House Republicans felt teachers should be exempt as well.
At the recent Senate hearing, Texas State Association of Fire Fighters President John Riddle argued that state government "should not pick winners and losers" by deciding which groups are allowed to have dues deducted from the paychecks of their membership.
Riddle said supporters of the prohibition “have implied that these dues are used for political purposes which would be an illegal practice.”
“State and federal law prevents us from using our dues money for political purposes,” Riddle said. “Free speech should not and has not been included in this prohibition.”
Riddle said that, just like union membership in Texas, the deduction of dues from paychecks is not a requirement for anyone. "Every state and local employee in Texas who chooses to steer a portion of earnings to pay for representation by a labor, employee, or professional organization has done so voluntarily," he said.
"No state or local funds are required to operate the payroll deduction system," Riddle noted. "State law explicitly provides that the organization receiving dues is responsible for any administrative costs incurred in processing the deduction," he said. "Cities that charge for the service charge anywhere between a nickel per transaction to 1% of the amount deducted."
No new actual legislation has been filed on this topic as of yet. Construction Citizen will monitor the situation.