EDUCATION WATCH BLOG
March 26, 2015
OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill prohibiting school districts from automatically deducting union dues from teachers’ paychecks passed the Oklahoma Senate Thursday, setting the stage for a legal showdown between the state and at least one teachers union.
The bill passed 27-16, but created a division within the Republican ranks after several conservative lawmakers said it focused too narrowly on teachers unions.
It's that narrow focus that has the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers union considering a lawsuit if Fallin signs the bill as expected.
The bill passed the House by a 59-39 vote on Feb. 18, and now goes to the governor for final approval.
Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, who co-authored the bill, House Bill 1749, said Fallin committed to signing it if it maintained the narrow focus.
Sen. Rick Brinkley, R-Owasso, said he supports the goal of the legislation, but added it should apply to all unions covering state employees. That includes state troopers, police and firefighters, and corrections officers.
“I will be voting against the bill, not because I don’t agree with the policy of the bill and the content of the bill, which I strongly agree in,” said Brinkley, who was among 11 Republicans who voted against the bill. “If it’s good policy for one, it’s good policy for all.”
Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, who’s a retired teacher, said the bill is being used to take away a tool teachers use for protection.
“This bill is not policy, it is politics,” he said. “I don’t care what you say, it comes down to politics.”
Oklahoma City-AFT President Ed Allen said the union is preparing to fight back.
That includes studying a provision that makes teachers state employees, and looking at whether the bill is discriminatory by only targeting teachers unions.
Allen, whose union represents about 2,700 teachers, expects little support from the governor.
"Our lobbyist had informal meetings with the governor's office, and they like the bill," Allen said. "They essentially said, 'Don't break a leg running over here.'"
Allen called Thursday's vote "bold" since it comes four days before teachers, parents and administrators are scheduled to rally at the Capitol over issues including education funding and testing.
Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, was not surprised by the vote.
The OEA lobbied against the bill, which is modeled after legislation passed in Wisconsin.
“We’re confident that the OEA will emerge an even stronger organization," she said. "Attacking teachers and support professionals will only serve to unify our members."
OEA officials said no decisions have been made about a legal challenge.
Sen Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, was among several senators who said the bill will not save taxpayers money.
Dahm said the goal is not to save the state money, and is meant to create a policy that gets the state and school districts out of collecting union dues.
Dahm agreed all unions should be included in the bill, but said there is not enough support for that in the House or from Fallin.
“If you want to take the all or nothing approach, we will end up with nothing all the time,” he said.
The bill does not prohibit teachers from joining unions, and will instead make them pay the dues themselves.
Other payment methods include using a credit card online, mailing a cash or check, or auto-deducting from a personal bank account, Dahm said.
State Labor Commissioner Mark Costello took to Facebook shortly after the Thursday's vote to throw his support behind the bill.
Costello called the Wisconsin bill “one of the major leadership accomplishments” of Gov. Scott Walker.
“Today, I extend my congratulations to those members of the state senate who stood up for taxpayers by getting the state out of the business of collecting union dues,” he wrote. “I now encourage Gov. Mary Fallin to sign this most important reform measure when it comes to her desk.”
Here's how the Senate voted:
Yes - 27
Greg Treat -R
No - 16
Did not vote - 4