Proposed legislation to ban the practice of using public school resources to deduct union dues from teacher paychecks appears to be stalled in the state Senate.
House Bill 4929, sponsored by Rep. Joe Haveman, R- Holland, was passed by the House nearly three months ago on a 55 to 53 vote. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing on Sept. 20.
There is disagreement in the Senate, apparently, since some Republican senators say they would vote “no” on the bill unless it applies to all labor unions. It appears that there would be no chance of the bill passing, however, if the language in it was broadened in such a way.
According to Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at Mackinac Center for Public Policy, prohibiting school districts from deducting union dues would be a step forward.
“It has been suggested that school districts should not collect dues or agency fees for teacher unions,” Kersey said. “The reasoning behind this is similar to that behind the political action committee bills that passed the House last week. Teachers unions are inherently political organizations and government agencies should not assist political organizations in collecting their money.
“Up until now, payment of teachers union dues has almost always been taken care of by the payroll department,” Kersey continued. “If this proposal were to become law, teachers would be obligated to write checks for their own union dues. Eventual payment of union dues and agency fees will still be expected, although teachers who are opposed to the union may express their dissatisfaction by dragging their heels, while others may refuse to pay outright. But that involves risk."
Unions may call for teachers who refuse to pay up to be fired, Kersey said, but there also are risks for the unions in such a situation.
"If more than a handful of teachers refuse, will the MEA and American Federation of Teachers-Michigan be willing to accept the PR damage that comes with pushing teachers out of their jobs?”
“This is not the same thing as freedom-to-teach,” Kersey said. “That worthy idea lost its mojo shortly after the bill was introduced and was revealed to have been a political 'get the MEA' proposal rather than a principled bill to give teachers the freedom to withhold support from a union that might not be serving their best interests.
"Eliminating the collection of dues at least leaves school districts' hands a bit cleaner," Kersey added. "Eliminating automatic dues collection is a small step in the right direction, a step that the Legislature should be willing to take if it is in any sense serious about breaking up the stranglehold that teachers unions have over public education.”
Gov. Rick Snyder and Senate GOP leaders are pressing to get HB 4929 adopted before the end of the year. The period just before the holiday break is crunch time for legislative action.
Bills that don't get passed by the end of this year could still move next year, but time factors come into play quickly. By February the Legislature will be working on the fiscal 2013 budget, and after that House members will begin campaigning for the 2012 elections.