This year, lawmakers are facing one of our state’s biggest challenges at least since the oil bust of the 1980s. A $1.6 billion budget hole must be filled by June 11. Colleges and universities threaten to close their doors. A health care house of cards puts federal funding in jeopardy. Crumbling roads and bridges pose a risk to public safety. Some runaway tax breaks cost the state much more than they bring in.
With all those problems, what is the state’s biggest business lobby twisting lawmakers’ arms about?
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry is haranguing legislators to revoke voluntary payroll deduction of dues for members of public sector unions. Teachers and their organizations are the prime targets.
Some lawmakers say they have been threatened with well-funded opposition in October unless they vote to abolish payroll dues deduction. LABI’s push is both intense and factually challenged.
So before we proceed further let’s dispel the myths that have been spread concerning this issue:
Payroll deduction is not a special privilege for unions. For decades, our members have had the same right to payroll deduction as credit unions, insurance agencies, mortgage companies, United Way and many other vendors.
Payroll dues deduction costs government little or nothing. It’s a simple automatic transfer of funds done with the click of a computer key along with deductions for other vendors.
“Paycheck protection” is a deceptive term from states with labor laws far different from ours. Louisiana is a Right to Work state. No one here is forced to join a union or pay dues. Members voluntarily join and voluntarily choose to remit dues through payroll deduction.
Member dues are not used to fund political candidates. Dollars spent in that arena are from voluntary political contributions.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers is an advocacy organization. We represent the voices of employees who otherwise have little influence over a political process that dictates just about everything about their profession.
Think about it. Doctors, lawyers and engineers largely have control over their own professions. But while teachers are the experts in their field, important decisions about their profession are made by elected officials.
On issues like curriculum and testing, for example, teachers must implement policies adopted by individuals who may have little understanding of child development or the resources available to our schools. Those officials are lobbied, often by interests whose goal is to privatize our schools and spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on packaged curricula and standardized tests. Teachers, through their unions, try to bring the voice of real-world classroom experience to the debate.
For instance, last spring the Department of Education announced plans for all students to take the Common Core-related tests on computers.
The LFT asked teachers if their schools were ready for online tests. Overwhelmingly, teachers said their schools and classrooms didn’t have the right technology for testing. Almost as many said their students did not yet have the keyboarding skills required.
Citing the Federation survey, Superintendent of Education John White reconsidered. He decided that this year’s tests would be taken with paper and pencil instead of on computers.
LABI is solely concerned with abolishing payroll deduction as it applies to unions. LABI appears completely at ease with insurance companies, credit unions and others who use payroll deduction to collect revenue. Those also lobby for legislation they favor and support political candidates. Just one consortium of health insurance interests spent more than $20 million in 2009 lobbying on health care reform.
The source of premiums that fund insurance PACs and influence politics and legislation? Payroll deduction.
That brings us to the real issue. LABI’s interest in payroll deduction is not philosophical; it’s purely political. Elimination of payroll deduction is only for those with whom they disagree. LABI wishes to silence teachers and other public employees by making it inconvenient and difficult to join and maintain membership.
LABI, like Dr. Frankenstein, effectively helped to create a monster. The monster is Louisiana’s structurally deficient tax system. In his recent address, Governor Jindal called LABI’s monster “Corporate Welfare.”
The attack on LFT and other public employee unions and associations is simply LABI’s latest effort to keep their monster in the closet.
Steve Monaghan is president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.