Wisconsin Law On Automatic Union Dues Overturned; What Effect On Louisiana?

A little-discussed but interesting bill in the Louisiana House is HB 88 by Rep. Bob Hensgens; the bill would ban automatic paycheck withdrawal of union dues for public employees in the state if those unions engage in political activity.

Specifically, the bill says that…

No portion of any payroll withholding or deduction authorized by a public servant and withheld or deducted by a governmental entity or agency thereof shall be used by the recipient to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition or to support a political committee or political party.

This is a poison pill for public-sector unions in Louisiana, and when it makes its debut in the House and Governmental Affairs committee some time this week you can bet that the AFL-CIO, SEIU and the teachers’ unions will be scrambling to the table to testify against it. Fireworks might well be in order.

Because when those unions have to solicit checks from their membership to collect dues rather than just getting a money dump once a month from people who couldn’t even tell you what they’re actually paying in dues (and if you go to the Louisiana Association of Educators’ website, for example – or the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, for that matter – you won’t find any information about what those does are), they’ll drop off to nothing membership-wise.

And that means they’ll sue immediately after this bill passes if they can’t kill it in the legislature. The word is that HB 88 will storm out of HGA with what looks like an 8-2 vote and then hit the House floor, where there are enough votes to pass it. Whether it does as well in the Senate isn’t known yet.

But this is an issue worth watching, because it’s being discussed in Congress now; there are lots of union members who aren’t happy about the fact that their dues are automatically taken out of their paycheck and used for political purposes they’re not in support of.

What’s more, our readers might recall that a bill somewhat like this was part of Gov. Scott Walker’s union-reform package in Wisconsin last year. But the Wisconsin bill was more broad; it just wiped out automatic withdrawal from paychecks on unions altogether, with no conditions – but it contained an exception.

And last week that provision was struck down by a federal judge.

Basically, the reasoning was that Walker didn’t go after “public safety unions” – namely, the police and the firefighters. He knew he’d get his butt kicked if he went after the cops and firefighters like he did the clockwatchers at the DMV, so for political reasons he stayed out of it. In Ohio, John Kasich included cops and firefighters in his union reform plan, and he lost a referendum on his package.

But constitutionally, at least according to the federal judge in Wisconsin, you can’t treat one union one way and another union a different way.

Hensgen’s bill is better, because it targets something the state can regulate – namely, political activity by public employees. And the state has an interest in preventing public dollars and public facilities – in the way of the dollars paid to public employees and the facility involved in the payroll system which is used to fund the unions now – from supporting a particular point of view or other. That looks more likely to survive a constitutional challenge.

But we’ll find out, because HB 88 will get challenged. It likely ends the teachers’ unions in this state if it becomes law.

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