Senate Takes Aim at Public Labor Groups

The Texas Senate on Thursday passed legislation that would make it tougher for public sector labor groups to collect dues by prohibiting state agencies and local governments from deducting union dues from many paychecks.

State employees with the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU) hold a small rally at the Texas Capitol entrance during the first day of the session on Jan. 13, 2015.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout. 

The Texas Senate on Thursday passed legislation that would make it tougher for public sector labor groups to collect dues. 

As a so-called right-to-work state, Texas already bars public and private workplaces from compelling employees to join a union. Sen. Joan Huffman’s Senate Bill 1968 would prohibit state agencies and local governments from deducting union dues from the paychecks of most members of labor groups.

The chamber approved the legislation with a 20-11 vote along party lines. 

The proposal would require union members to pay dues to their representatives directly, rather than relying on government agencies to deduct the fees from paychecks and turn them over to the union. The ban would exempt certain firefighters, police officers and emergency medial service workers.

Huffman said her measure would “take the state out of the business of collecting union dues.” She and her fellow Republicans argued that governments should have no role in aiding unions, which are often politically active. Democrats questioned those motivations, describing the measure as an unnecessary roadblock for dues-paying employees. 

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, called it a “fundamental attack on public employees freedom of association.”

“This is about allowing state employees to spend their paychecks as they see fit,” Lucio said.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said the legislation would prove especially burdensome for employees without checking accounts.

Seth Hutchinson, vice president of the Texas State Employees Union, said the Legislature was “picking winners and losers” by taking aim at unions, but still allowing deductions for a host of other arguably political organizations, such as Focus on the Family. 

“This is an attempt to limit state employees' voice and ability to advocate for the services they provide," he said in an interview. 

Huffman's bill would also prohibit people from picketing workplaces, unless they are directly involved in a labor dispute. 

The bill has no companion in the House, so it will need a sponsor and committee assignment to advance further.

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