Voters in the Texas Republican primary this year will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on ballot measures that include an issue of significance to public education employees: payroll deduction.
Beginning Tuesday, Feb. 16, Texas voters have two weeks in which to participate in an important election that will help determine the future of public education in our state. When you go vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary, you will have a slate of candidates from which to choose your legislators and other officeholders. In addition, you’ll see ballot measures aimed at determining the priorities of the voters in each party’s primary. These non-binding propositions or referenda near the end of your ballot typically originate with the party’s leadership but may also appear as the result of a petition by individual citizens submitted to the Secretary of State.
In the 2016 primary, the Texas Republican Party’s ballot includes four propositions, while the Texas Democratic Party’s ballot features six referendum-style questions. While both parties’ ballot measures deal with topics that are likely to be of interest to educators, such as property taxes and access to paid family leave, there is one proposition of particular concern to the education community.
Voters in the upcoming Republican primary will see the following statement on their ballot: “Texas should prohibit governmental entities from collecting dues for labor unions through deductions from public employee paychecks.” ATPE is urging voters to reject this proposition, which is aimed at ending the practice of allowing educators and other public employees to use payroll deduction for their membership dues. The ballot measure reflects efforts by the Texas GOP, steered by its more extreme factions within the party, to weaken groups that represent educators and other public servants. It is part of an anti-union movement that has been seen throughout the country, but the efforts to prohibit payroll deduction in Texas also reflect an ignorance or lack of full comprehension of the nature of public employee groups that exist here in Texas.
Here are facts you need to know about payroll deduction, why it poses no legitimate threat, and why it should not be eliminated:
- Texas is a right-to-work state, and our public employees don’t experience the type of forced unionism that is seen in some other states. Educators and other public servants have the right to choose any professional organization to represent them or even to join no professional group at all. When payroll deduction is offered to governmental employees in Texas, it is used only for voluntary dues payments, as there are no mandatory dues requirements.
- Payroll deduction is used not only by “labor unions” by also by non-union professional associations, especially in right-to-work states such as Texas. For instance, ATPE is the largest entity representing educators in Texas, and we are not a “labor union.” On the contrary, ATPE was founded by educators who wanted to provide a professional association model for their colleagues who did not wish to join a union or any statewide group affiliated with a national union. ATPE exists only in Texas and was created to offer a non-union choice to Texas educators. To this day, public school employees in Texas may voluntarily choose to join ATPE, and many of the members who do join us appreciate the safety and convenience of payroll deduction as a means of paying their annual membership dues.
- Offering payroll deduction options to educators does not cost the state, school districts, or taxpayers additional money. State law specifically allows districts to charge associations a fee to cover any costs they may incur as a result of offering payroll deduction to their employees. School districts typically incur no additional costs since they already offer payroll deduction for a multitude of payments by their employees, from donations to charities such as the United Way or a district’s own foundation to health care expenditures and cafeteria plans.
- Ending the practice of payroll deduction would not necessarily benefit the Texas Republican Party. Backers of efforts to prohibit payroll deduction and those who want Republican voters to support the ballot proposition shown above often claim that their motivation is to cripple the efforts of certain politically active groups. They believe that prohibiting payroll deduction will cause public employee associations and unions to lose revenue and that, in turn, those groups will be weakened in their ability to support Democratic candidates. However, many of the groups that would be affected by changes to payroll deduction laws are groups that also support Republican candidates! For example, ATPE members have the option of making voluntary donations to the nonpartisan ATPE-PAC, which makes campaign contributions to candidates and officeholders who support public education. Every year, ATPE-PAC’s contributions go to both Republican and Democratic candidates, with a fairly even split between the two parties in most years. Similarly, based on voluntary self-identification by our members, ATPE’s membership is composed of both Democrats and Republicans who often vote for candidates from both parties. The notion that preventing ATPE members from being able to use payroll deduction will somehow result in less financial support for Democrats or more financial support for Republicans in the future is entirely without merit.
ATPE members and other public employees who voluntarily join professional associations appreciate having options to manage their own money in the way they choose. Many opt to take advantage of payroll deduction because it provides an effective hedge against identity theft by eliminating credit cards from the mix. Republican and Tea Party leaders who are trying to eliminate payroll deduction through legislation and the party’s platform are ignoring the political realities of our right-to-work state and doing a disservice to their own voters, many of whom are educators and other public sector employees.
As a voter, you can help steer the Republican party away from this harmful and misguided stance. Read more to find out how…
What can you do as an educator?
- If you vote in the Republican party primary this year (where many of the state’s contested races will be decided), be sure to vote NO on ballot proposition #3 regarding paycheck deductions for “labor unions.”
- Remind your colleagues to watch out for and vote NO on this harmful proposition. Many voters experience “ballot fatigue,” especially when they get to the end of a long ballot. They may not take the time to read wordy propositions and often vote “yes” on all the measures. Tell your friends to make sure they vote NO on proposition #3 if they believe that educators and other public servants should have the right to make their own decisions about how they spend their money.
- Educate yourself on the candidates’ viewpoints on payroll deduction. Ask the candidates in your district what their stances are on this and other public education issues. The candidate profiles compiled by ATPE and featured here on Teach the Vote can help you determine which candidates are most likely to stand up for educators’ rights. Another helpful tool you’ll find on Teach the Vote in our candidate profiles is the “Voting Record” section. Incumbent senators’ voting records indicate how they voted on the 2015 bill that tried unsuccessfully to eliminate payroll deduction. (There is no such record vote for state representatives because the Texas House did not allow the anti-payroll deduction bill to come up for a vote either in committee or on the House floor.) Click the 2016 Races button to search for your candidates’ profiles.
- Finally, remember that your votes in this primary election will have a tremendous impact on the types of bills that pass or fail during the 2017 legislative session. It is a virtual certainty that a bill to take away your right to use payroll deduction will be filed and considered again in 2017. Its success or failure will depend primarily on which candidates have been elected to represent you. Be an informed voter and understand whether the candidates you’re supporting are going to represent your interests next year when the legislature meets.
Click here to view the complete list of 2016 primary ballot measures broken down by party.