There was a time when fights in the Louisiana Legislature between Big Labor and Big Business regularly produced fire-and-light shows worthy of a “Star Wars” movie. While the biggest conflagrations might now be in the past (business eventually won most of them), this session should see at least one big light-saber duel, tentatively scheduled to start April 29 in the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.
By all rights, the Force ought to be with business interests on this one.
The issue, which has played out in many states and in Congress in the past decade or so, is appropriately known as “paycheck protection.” The bill, HB 418 by state Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, would stop the state’s practice of acting (in effect) as the agent of unions in collecting dues and fees from state employees.
Right now, most state employees are afforded the option of allowing the state to withhold dues from their paychecks for direct remittal to their unions; and state law requires such withholding for most school workers. Bishop’s bill would end both practices very explicitly, saying that “no deductions” shall be made for payments “of any kind to a labor organization or union.”
Unions might whine that this bill would put some sort of special burden on them, but the truth is just the opposite: All it would do would be to stop giving them a particular advantage enjoyed by no other organization. The state conducts paycheck withholding on behalf of no other private group — no charity, no civic organization such as Rotary or Kiwanis, nor even any benefit organization such as the American Association of Retired Persons. Why should unions be any different?
Unions will of course continue to be able to collect dues directly from their members, just as Rotary or Kiwanis clubs do. But no longer would taxpayer resources and the power of the state be put at their disposal for dues collection.
The existing withholding system, which in effect is a special favor for unions, is actually more inappropriate than it would be to withhold funds for, say, a Lions Club. Unions, especially public sector unions, are inherently political organizations (at least in part). In every other instance, the public rightly restricts state power and taxpayer money being used for campaign or lobbying activity. That’s why elected officials can’t use public resources for their campaigns. Again, why should unions be any different?
“The state should not be engaged in collecting dues on behalf of a political organization,” said Kevin Kane, president of the conservative Pelican Institute and an active supporter of the coalition supporting Bishop’s bill. “Consider, particularly, that the organization’s politics might well be contrary to the beliefs of many of its own members and of Louisiana taxpayers.”
Indeed, as the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry notes on a paper it issued in support of paycheck protection, a portion of these dues go to national parent unions that variously support gun restrictions, “school-based family planning clinics,” Obamacare, and leniency regarding illegal immigration. Clearly, these are not views shared by a majority of Louisianans.
All of which makes one wonder, since paycheck protection battles have been occurring across the country for a decade or more, and since the business lobby has held the upper hand in Louisiana for most of that same period, why it has taken this long for the Bayou State’s government to stop the practice of serving as the unions’ primary collection agent.
“For the last several years the business groups have been pushing this, but not in quite as concentrated a way as they are this year,” Kane said. “This year it looks like they have a better chance of gaining passage.”
Responsible unions can do a lot of good for their members and for the public weal. Fine. If so, they should be perfectly capable of doing so without using state government as their bag man, collecting tribute for the Empire.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he blogs at blogs. theadvocate.com/quin-essential.