Panel scuttles union busting bill

Alan Seabaugh
Alan Seabaugh

A Louisiana House committee shot down legislation Wednesday that would have prohibited payroll deductions for public employees’ union dues.

House Bill 552 would have affected teacher unions.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan told the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations that he had to question the timing of the proposal. “Shutting our voice out might mean there wouldn’t have been litigation over flawed programs,” he said.

Committee debate on the bill came just one day after the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, or LFT, prevailed at the state Supreme Court in a case that scuttled the way the state finances vouchers that use public dollars to send students to private or parochial schools. The LFT is one of the state’s largest teacher unions.

The measure’s sponsor, state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, characterized HB552 as a simple bill.

Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, said collecting union dues should not be a function of government. “Frankly, the dues often are used to engage in a political process,” he said.

The Republican Party of Louisiana sent out an action alert to corral support for the proposal. The alert included a link to a form email to committee members asking them to vote in favor of the legislation.

The party complained that “those involuntary, automatic deductions are often used by left-wing special interest groups to push anti-business, liberal policies and fight bold conservative reform.”

The Republican Party of Louisiana also came to the governor’s aid when legislators started compiling an alternative to Jindal’s state budget plan.

Jim Patterson, vice president of government relations for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, told committee members Wednesday that union members can use online banking to pay their dues, instead of relying on their employer to forward the payments.

He said the automatic payments put government in an awkward position because unions often work against government.

“State and local governments should not be required to collect dues for unions. It’s not their role,” Patterson said.

Patterson left the testimony table only to be called back by state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and a committee member.

Smith demanded that Patterson explain how the bill would affect his association, which is the state’s largest business lobbying group.

“Our members believe it’s fundamentally wrong for government to exercise this role,” Patterson said.

Smith pointed out that the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association also accepts payroll deductions, which are used to lobby politicians and campaign for candidates. She suggested the prohibition should be extended to that organization.

“This is Rep. Seabaugh’s bill, and I’m fine with his bill as it is,” Patterson said.

Smith accused Patterson of taking a discriminatory stance.

Monaghan said the legislation attempted to turn the lights out on representative democracy.

State Rep. Lenar Whitney, R-Houma, made a motion to advance the bill. State Rep. Alfred C. Williams objected. Williams, D-Baton Rouge, moved to involuntarily defer the proposal, which would kill the legislation.

Williams’ motion prevailed on a 7-6 vote.