A question often discussed by liberals and conservatives alike is ‘What is the purpose of government?’ While the question is a contentious one, prone to spurring disagreement, few would argue the government’s role is to collect dues for private organizations, whether these organizations are non-profits, corporations, or charities.
Yet that is exactly what the government does when it deducts dues from public sector union employee on behalf of unions. The appropriateness of this role is one of the many issues the Texas Legislature will likely debate during the current special session.
The specific issue is if the government should serve a dues collector for public sector unions by deducting dues for public sector union employees and sending them directly to the union.
Arguments against this practice are number and unions have fought — and continue to fight — tooth and nail against bills putting an end to it around the nation. This is as true in Texas as it is anywhere else in the Union.
During the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature, SB 13, passed the Texas Senate but never received a hearing in the Texas House. Now it is alive again as one of the items Gov. Abbott has identified for the special session.
Of note, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and police officers were all exempted from the provisions of SB 13 because they serve with "great honor and distinction." This is true — first responders are among our bravest citizens, and the men and women who put their lives on the line for us daily deserve honor, respect, and acclaim. However, that does not mean that government should engage in behavior outside of its scope in order to honor these heroes, including exempting them from the legislation.
Some point out that the government also offers to deduct money for charity contributions, and union fee deductions are not different. Agreed. Government is acting outside of its role in this area as well. Charitable non-profits do amazing and wonderful work in all sorts of different ways, but they do it as what they are, charitable non-profits.
Many argue that because automatic union dues deductions costs the government — and thus taxpayers — very little money it is therefore reasonable. The cost is immaterial, though, and beside the point. Even if automatic deduction programs cost taxpayers no money they are still outside the proper role of government and indirectly facilitating political activity.
It is also argued that because unions in the private sector have automatic paycheck deduction, it is therefore only right that unions in the public sector have the option as well. However, this is a false equivalence. In few areas would most people, including no doubt most union leaders, argue that the government should work just like a business, especially when we talk about engaging in political activity. What is proper a business to do is not always proper for government to do.
Many supporters of unions and automatic deduction trumpet the good things unions do for their members — insurance, legal advice, financial planning, and more. But this debate is not about those benefits. These benefits can exist with or without the government’s help, and do in many states without automatic collection of union dues. If these benefits are as wonderful as unions claim, then they members will still pay without governmental aid.
The answer to all of these arguments is as simple as it is proper: it is not the role of the government to act as the middleman and dues collector for private organizations, including unions. Prohibiting the government from acting as a dues-collector for unions, or other organizations, puts both government and unions in their proper place.
J.D. Rimann is a policy analyst with the Center for Economic Freedom at Texas Public Policy Foundation.