As the 2015 Legislature begins at noon on Monday, a battle is shaping up on whether teachers and other public employee unions should be banned from having membership dues automatically deducted from paychecks.
The effort largely pits the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which is behind the effort, against the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators, the state’s two teachers unions.
Backers of the effort say the law needs to be changed because, under current rules, state government is facilitating the collection of union dues that can end up supporting groups like Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the nation.
“So essentially, Louisiana taxpayers are supporting the automatic collection of dollars to go and fund projects that they say they do not support,” said Brigitte Nieland, LABI’s vice president for workforce development.
Opponents contend the move is aimed at squashing the voice of rank-and-file workers and elevating the clout of big corporations.
“It is a way of getting unions out of the way of these large corporations and state political or legislative agendas that are not education or education-friendly,” LAE president Debbie Meaux said.
Nearly identical bills have been filed in the House and Senate — House Bill 418 and Senate Bill 204.
Last year, a bill to do much the same thing failed in the House Labor Committee on an 8-8, party-line vote. Republicans backed the measure, and Democrats opposed it.
A similar bill also failed in 2013.
However, GOP lawmakers now enjoy a 9-6-1 advantage on the panel, which boosts chances that the bill will emerge from the committee and get a vote in the full House.
Under current rules, thousands of public school teachers, state troopers and other members of law enforcement rely on automatic payroll deductions to handle their union or association dues.
LAE members, for instance, may have such deductions made once or twice a month for 10 months.
Dues typically total about $40 per month, with the proceeds divided among the organization’s national, state and local offices — roughly 20 percent, 50 percent and 30 percent, respectively, LAE officials said.
Meaux said the bulk of the money is used for professional development and member benefits, such as supplemental health insurance. Political contributions are handled through a separate operation.
Meaux said the LAE has 15,000 to 20,000 members.
State Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, sponsor of the House bill, said the practice needs to change.
“I find it unethical for taxpayers to pay an individual to deduct union dues when they are not exactly sure what the union dues are for,” Bishop said.
“I am involved with plenty of organizations, and I send my check to those organizations,” he said. “I think the unions should do the same thing.”
Nieland said union members could use bank drafts to route part of their paychecks to union coffers. “It is not an onerous process,” she said.
The issue shapes up as a battle of philosophies rather than costs. Expenses associated with payroll deduction appear to be negligible, officials on both sides of the debate said.
Steve Monaghan, president of the LFT, said the bill will drain valuable time and goodwill during a 45-day legislative session dominated by efforts to resolve a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.
He said the issue carries little interest outside of the leadership of LABI. “They are really picking a fight that legislators don’t want either,” he said.
The bills would apply to professional organizations, not just unions.
“Obviously, if (the bills) were to pass in the form they are in now, they would have a negative impact on us,” said David Young, executive director of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, which has about 1,000 members.
During previous debates, such groups, as well as those representing firefighters and sheriffs, were excluded from the proposed new rules.
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