Texas teachers speak out against ‘anti-union’ bill

FILE - Classroom (Nexstar File Photo)
FILE - Classroom (Nexstar File Photo)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — Teachers from across the state of Texas gathered at the Capitol to speak out against a bill they say unfairly targets educators.

Filed by Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman, the legislation would put an end automatic payroll deductions for unions and professional organizations. “This bill has one purpose, this bill’s purpose is to try to shut teachers up,” said Byron Hildebrand, a retired teacher from San Antonio.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs heard more than three hours of what was often emotional testimony from mostly teachers who want to stop Senate Bill 13. “It takes away our voice, it takes away our right to choose where we want our money to go when we get paid,” Hildebrand said.

Under Senate Bill 13, state, county and municipal employers cannot collect union dues from employee paychecks.

Emergency responders are exempt from the bill, that means police officers and firefighters can continue to pay union dues through automatic payroll deductions. SB 13 applies to all other public employees, including Child Protective Services workers, corrections officers, and teachers in Texas.

“We really believe this bill is about silencing educators, keeping them out of the political process,” said Gary Godsey, Executive Director Association of the Texas Professional Educators, or ATPE. “It’s aimed at killing unions, that’s what the bill is about but ATPE isn’t even a union,” Godsey said.

The largest teachers group in Texas, ATPE provides training, advocacy and liability protection in the event a teacher is sued. “ATPE is like a security blanket,” said Stacey Ward, a fifth grade math and science teacher at Humble ISD.

A small amount is automatically deducted from Ward’s paychecks check to pay ATPE dues — $145 per year. “It’s just an easy way to be covered,” Ward said.

She said the $145 annual fee may not sound like much but explained that at the start of every school year teachers have a lot of expenses are are typically short on cash, especially new teachers.

Ward said the automatic deductions mean she doesn’t have to worry about the dues that offer “a feeling of confidence that I can just go in and teach my kids and not have to worry about anything else.”

Those who support the bill believe there should be some separation between government and organizations like ATPE. “Collect your own dues just like we do and that’s it,” said Annie Spilman, Texas Legislative Director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

“We are just asking people to collect their own membership dues,” Spilman said it’s not the government’s job to collect dues for unions. Representatives from several different business associations spoke out in favor of the bill, legislation they want passed to limit the government’s involvement in assisting unions.

Hildebrand asked, “How are you going to separate teachers who are public employees from the state of Texas?” Chairwoman of the State Affairs Committee and author of SB 13, Huffman said many other states have passed similar laws to ban automatic payroll deductions for union dues.

Democrats noted the bill would not affect private businesses and questions how the current practice negatively impacts businesses. “I’m trying to figure out where the problem is coming from, because I haven’t heard of any,” said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio.

Educators who oppose the bill say automatic payroll deduction is the easiest way for teachers for pay dues. The head of ATPE, Godsey said, “Payroll deduction is a much safer method in today’s world of cybercrime.”

He added that not all teachers have credit cards or bank accounts and if automatic payroll deductions are banned, Godsey said membership numbers would definitely drop. The Senate Committee on State Affairs is expected to vote on SB 13 Thursday.

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