Lawmakers aim to silence Texas educators

Portrait of a young man with tape on mouth over colored backgroundTeachers, some lawmakers are trying to shut you up. There’s no other way to put it.

The lieutenant governor and a number of lawmakers are again pushing legislation to prohibit school employees from using payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to ATPE and other professional associations. If you currently pay your ATPE dues through payroll deduction, then you know why this is important. In addition to being convenient, payroll deduction is the safest way for employees to contribute to professional organizations and causes. By eliminating credit cards, payroll deduction reduces the risk of identity theft and potential lapses in payments that could cause a loss of insurance coverage.

Doing away with payroll deduction for school employees serves no legitimate purpose. Bills to prevent public school employees from doing as they choose with their own money are offensive and potentially unconstitutional. This legislation is about politics – and vouchers, in particular. Educators have long fought attempts to take money away from our cash-strapped public schools and use it for private school vouchers. Frustrated by the success of our advocacy for public education, some business groups are now lobbying to silence you in order to weaken the effectiveness of groups like ATPE. By making it more difficult for school employees to support professional organizations, voucher advocates hope to eliminate your influence at the Capitol.

In no uncertain terms, this legislation aims to silence the education community that has been speaking out in support of public schools.

After a similar bill failed to pass in 2015, a ban on payroll deductions will be pushed even harder this session, and the time for educators to fight that effort is right now. In the Texas Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) has declared banning the “collection of union dues” by public employers one of his priority items for 2017. Although the bill had not yet been filed as of this morning, Patrick has reserved Senate Bill (SB) 13 for this purpose, signaling its importance with a low bill number. On the House side, Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) has already filed House Bill (HB) 510 earlier this week. That bill would prohibit your ability to use payroll deduction to contribute to ATPE. In fact, it specifically bans all school district employees from using payroll deduction to support any professional organization.

What can I do?

Step 1: Speak up! Help us fight this personal attack on teachers and public school employees. If you’re an ATPE member, log in at Advocacy Central on ATPE.org to call or send a message to your legislator today. If you’re not an ATPE member, contact your legislators and let them know you don’t appreciate efforts to silence educators’ voices in the Texas Capitol.

Step 2: Know your facts. Payroll deduction is convenient, secure and reliable; otherwise, why is it allowed for so many other things? Use Advocacy Central to learn more about these and other truths regarding payroll deduction that you should share with your legislators:

  • Texas is a right-to-work state. Our public employees aren’t forced to join a union as in some other states, and payroll deduction is used in Texas only for voluntary dues payments since there are no mandatory dues requirements.
  • Payroll deduction is used not just by “labor unions,” but also by non-union professional associations like ATPE. ATPE is the largest entity representing educators in Texas, and we are not a “labor union.” ATPE exists only in Texas and has steadfastly supported right-to-work laws while opposing the union tactics that have been highlighted by business groups as a rationale for these bills.
  • Payroll deduction does not cost taxpayers ANY additional money. State law authorizes school districts to charge associations a fee to cover any costs associated with payroll deduction. Districts typically incur no additional costs since they already offer payroll deduction for everything from donations to charities like  United Way or an ISD foundation to payments for health care premiums and cafeteria plans.
  • Banning payroll deduction ultimately hurts Republicans and Democrats alike. Those pushing to ban payroll deduction claim falsely that educator groups like ATPE use their revenue to support Democratic candidates and causes exclusively while opposing Republicans. In reality, ATPE routinely helps both Republican and Democratic candidates and officeholders, and more than half of ATPE members identify themselves as Republicans based on member surveys.

Step 3: Be persistent. Business lobbyists are meeting with lawmakers to quickly amass support for their so-called “paycheck protection” bills. As a Senate priority, there will be pressure to get this done swiftly and silently, and a bill has already been filed in the House. Educators must send a message now to prevent their rights from being eroded in 2017. Don’t wait for the session to begin or the holidays to pass. Visit the district offices of your state representative and state senator, send e-mails, write letters, use social media, and make phone calls to ensure your voices are heard.

The key is to keep up the pressure – starting now!

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