Only one barrier stands in the way of Texas approving a bill that would make it the next state in the nation to require its government employee unions to collect their own dues rather than sticking taxpayers with the job.
As speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) is in a position to thwart the will of the governor, his colleagues in the Legislature and the residents of the state rather than risk offending its powerful labor leaders.
And by all indications, he means to do just that.
The bill, Senate Bill 7, ("Relating to payroll deductions for state and local government employee organizations") was sponsored in the state Senate by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Tyler), and passed 6-3 out of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee on July 23.
It then won approval of the full Senate on July 26, by a vote of 19-12.
But the House has still not referred the bill to a committee, let alone taken a vote.
Gov. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) made ending the government collection of union dues one of the 20 items he wanted the Legislature to address during this special session after the House failed to take action on a similar bill, SB 13, introduced in the regular session by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston).
It passed the Senate State Affairs Committee 6-2 on Feb. 21 was approved in the Senate by a 20-11 vote on March 30.
It was referred to the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), who did not give the bill a hearing or vote before the end of the session.
The bill's backers believe it has the votes to win approval in the full House, if it ever comes up for a vote. But that determination will be made by Speaker Straus.
Testifying in favor of the legislation earlier this summer before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, Maxford Nelsen, labor policy director for the Olympia, Wash.-based Freedom Foundation, explained why such protections are essential.
"First, unions regularly engage in political activity using the dues money collected by government employers from workers' pay," Nelsen said. "Public resources and taxpayer dollars should never be used to subsidize or support electoral politics."
Secondly, public resources and funds should not be used for the benefit of private, non-charitable entities.
"Collecting their own dues and fees is the norm for the vast majority of membership organizations," Nelsen said. "There is no reason why labor unions can't continue to exist and even thrive without the extraordinary privilege of having taxpayers collect their dues for them."
Most fundamentally of all, making unions collect their own dues better protects the rights of public employees. While Texas' right-to-work protections prevent government workers from being forced to join a union as a condition of employment, the government's role as dues collector for unions makes it easier for unions to engage in coercive behavior.
"When government collects union dues," Nelsen explained, "all a union needs to do is get an employees' signature on a membership card, which creates an incentive for unions to do whatever it takes to get that signature."
In his home state of Washington, Nelsen told the committee, state-subsidized home care providers can no longer be forced to join or financially support the SEIU, thanks to a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision. However, the SEIU has responded by mounting an aggressive effort to pressure providers into signing membership cards.
"Caregivers are visited by union organizers at their homes and at state-mandated trainings," Nelsen said, "where state workers have reported caregivers being brought to tears by the belligerence of SEIU organizers."
Passage of SB-7 would give Texas government employees protections those in other states lack.
"It's frustrating for many of us to live in states where organized labor exercises so much control over the political process that legislation like this isn't even a consideration," Nelsen said.
"But in many ways," he said, "it's even more heartbreaking to see a state like Texas – where a bill like this should have no problem being passed – on the verge of squandering this opportunity. Still, it's not too late for Rep. Cook and Speaker Straus to do the right thing and move this important bill forward."