When the leadership of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry declared that it would launch anew its annual attack on voluntary payroll deduction for teacher and school employee union dues, it was only a matter of measured moments before the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana would serve as LABI’s always accommodating second.

The timing of APEL Executive Director Keith Courville’s letter in support of one of LABI’s top legislative priorities was as predictable as a spring rain. As certain as one is that with spring comes rain, one knows that with LABI comes APEL.

Let’s be clear: voluntary payroll deduction of dues is not a special privilege for teacher, police or other public sector unions in our right-to-work state. Health, disability and life insurance vendors are among the many others that utilize payroll deduction.

Sadly and transparently, APEL and LABI are solely concerned with the appropriateness of payroll deduction as it applies to unions. What a surprise!

APEL and LABI are completely unconcerned with insurance companies and others who use payroll deduction to collect their premiums and also lobby for legislation and support favorable candidates. For example, just one consortium of health insurance interests spent more than $20 million to affect health care reform in 2009.

In fact, as Courville shares his great concern regarding union advocacy on behalf of public education and our voluntary membership, he fails to mention that APEL enjoys a number of contracts with the Louisiana Department of Education. Two of those are for increasing enrollment at religious schools that take state vouchers as payment for tuition.

In recent years, the LFT and other organizations have raised questions over testing and the implementation of Common Core State Standards. We have opposed inaccurate, unfair schemes to label our teachers. We have advocated for positive changes that reclaim the promise of a great public education for all children. We have done so openly, civilly and with a willingness to listen to all viewpoints.

APEL and LABI share a national corporate agenda. But attacking payroll dues deduction is simply wrong. No one is forced to join a union. Our members understand full well that they joined an organization that lobbies on behalf of public education and defends their professional rights.

APEL may not understand this simple fact, but LABI, the big business lobby, does: Louisiana faces an unparalleled fiscal crisis that threatens our universities and the future of our children.

It’s time to stop looking for the monster in the closet and focus on Louisiana’s real problems. Billions of dollars buried in the big book of tax expenditures: APEL needs to help LABI with that issue.

Steve Monaghan

president, Louisiana Federation of Teachers

Baton Rouge