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50 Years is Long Enough

May 5, 2015

By: Stephen Waguespack

Should government collect membership dues for a private lobbying organization?

Imagine the reaction from journalists across the country if the law required the government to collect membership dues from public employee gun owners and distribute those dollars to the National Rifle Association? What if National Right to Life or Planned Parenthood also benefitted from a special law requiring the government to collect their dues from public employees?

Should the government collect dues and other contributions from public employees of the Republican Party, Democrat Party, Tea Party or any other political group? Should the government collect dues from a public employee who also owns a small business or restaurant on the side, on behalf of advocacy groups like the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Louisiana Chemical Association, National Federation of Independent Business, Louisiana Mid-Continental Oil and Gas Association, Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, and the Retail Association or the Restaurant Association? Should the government collect dues or contributions for conservative policy groups like the Pelican Institute or liberal policy groups like the Louisiana Budget Project?

The answer is obviously no. Government has no valid reason to collect dues on behalf of a private membership-based advocacy group, especially when that group has politics and lobbying as its primary purposes.

Despite this obvious truth, Louisiana has kept a law on the books for 50 years mandating that governmental bodies collect union membership dues from Louisiana employees free of charge, and distribute these dollars to union leaders through payroll deduction. In addition, the government asks very few questions to determine what those dollars support and exactly how much of Louisiana taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars are simply funneled to the leadership of the national unions in Washington, D.C.

Last week, the Louisiana House Labor Committee passed HB418 by Rep. Stuart Bishop, legislation that would finally prohibit this 50-year old special mandate for government to collect dues for public sector unions. The time has come to pass this legislation and sign it into law.

How can we allow this mandate to continue while pretending it is fair to other voices in society seeking parity in First Amendment rights, or public workers who deserve the right to control their own paycheck? Would public workers not benefit from the right to directly start or stop payment to any union at any time for any reason without apology or intimidation – a right they currently enjoy with other private groups?

LABI polled several school districts around Louisiana, and the numbers were startling. In only six of these local school districts, the government annually collects roughly $4.5 million in union dues from Louisiana residents and sends them to the state union office, with around 20 percent of that amount going to the national union offices. The government collects these dollars from our taxpayers and then sends it to an organization that invests heavily in political and lobbying efforts.

What appropriate public purpose does this special governmental billing mandate serve?

I clearly understand why the compensated leaders of the state unions oppose this bill. State and local government has collected revenues on their behalf for years and asked very few questions about how the union leaders use it. Who in their right mind wouldn’t try to get away with that as long as they possibly could?

But, it is Louisiana employees making this investment and they deserve more control over their paycheck. They should not have to deal with the government when deciding whether to join a group that meets their needs. Louisiana workers deserve the right to opt in or out of a group anytime they want, to challenge the dues being collected, and the decisions being made on how it is being spent. They should have the unfettered ability to simply pull out their laptop and stop payment anytime they choose, as well as the ability to sign back up the next day if they desire.

This type of direct control is how the rest of the world works these days. People pay their bills online with relative ease. It is quite common for someone to set up automatic payment plans for utility, entertainment, and other bills. It can all be started and stopped online or with a simple paper form. In most cases, it can be altered or changed easily by computer, phone or iPad. The private sector has evolved and made the collection of dues easy and consumer friendly in many different ways. The rationale for government to provide this service simply does not exist.

Fifty years ago, these robust technological options to pay dues did not exist. At that time, the Louisiana Legislature made a policy decision to give union leaders special treatment and make state and local government the collector of union dues. That Legislature put the union leaders’ desire for more dollars above the union members’ control over their own paychecks.

Other political and advocacy groups did not receive the same special treatment as unions, and frankly, aren’t asking for it today. A half century later, it is time to give public workers more control over their paychecks, treat everyone equally and simply update Louisiana laws to the technological reality of today.