Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Look For the Union Exemption: Update

I'm afraid I've been remiss again in posting my print columns.  "All In Perspective" is a bi-weekly column that runs in the Hill Country News, the Georgetown Advocate, and the Jarrell Star-Ledger.  To update this topic, the Texas House passed SB 346 this week without amendments.  Apparently, Representative Charlie Geren did not want to risk sending the bill back to the Senate, and so even though supporters of SB 346 have acknowledged the union exemption problem, they refused to amend.  Sadly, the answer I was given on why the union exemption was there in the first place was because "the Dems wouldn't vote for it without the exemption."

Well, duh. 

I support appropriate transparency measures, as long as they apply to everyone equally.

Please note that Williamson County Representatives Larry Gonzales and Tony Dale both voted yes on an amendment to remove the union exemption.  Unfortunately, the amendment failed, and the bill still gives unions a free pass.

SB 346 was sent to the Governor yesterday, but he has not yet signed it.  There are rumors of a veto, but we shall see. 

Original Column: 

Contrary to popular belief, labor union power is on the rise in Texas.  Few Texans realize that our "right to work" status merely prohibits compulsory union membership.  Not only do we have a wide variety of private and public sector unions in Texas, union membership in the state increased by 65,000 members last year.  It is no secret that the Democrat strategy to 'turn Texas Blue' is heavily reliant on burgeoning union power. 

Now it seems that the Texas Legislature is poised to pass legislation that would exempt labor unions from new political disclosure rules.  Recently the Senate approved a bill expanding the definition of a 'political committee' and requiring more activists to report contributions used for political purposes.  (Senate Bill 346)  The vagueness of the proposed law is leaving many political ethics lawyers scratching their heads about who will be covered.  But one thing is certain; the proposed law specifically exempts labor unions. 

If this political disclosure law is passed as written, Texas will be joining a slew of ‘blue’ states that exempt labor unions from rules that apply to Joe Citizen. 
Last year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a study entitled “Sabotage, Stalking & Stealth Exemptions:  Special State Laws for Labor Unions.”  The report describes little noticed state laws that exclude unions from prosecution for “conduct that would otherwise be considered criminal activity.” While many of the union exemptions apply to what we might consider ‘white collar crime,’ others involve more serious and physically violent behavior.

For example, while every state in the nation prohibits stalking, Pennsylvania’s prohibitions specifically exclude those involved in a labor dispute.  Other strong labor states (California, Nevada, Illinois, etc.,) also exempt unions from stalking measures. These union exemptions are unfortunate considering the history of violent tactics often employed by union activists.  The U.S. Chamber report includes the story of a non-union shop owner who had rocks thrown through his store windows, his tires slashed, and was shot in the arm, but Ohio labor unions defended these “monitoring” tactics as perfectly legal.

Likewise, California’s trespassing laws, designed to protect individuals and property, exclude “labor union activities.”  Such laws have permitted union members not only to picket, but to actively harass and intimidate customers of non-union businesses, business owners, and their respective families.  California also permits union activists to “willfully (block) the free movement of another person” in a public transit system facility or vehicle. 
Other state laws around the nation exclude unions from prosecution for sabotage and threats of bodily injury, but many of the non-violent exclusions are equally as troubling.  For example, in some states labor activists have been permitted to unionize anyone who accepts state funds for child care.  In Michigan, parents who accepted Medicaid to care for their own disabled child in their own home have been forcibly enrolled in and forced to pay dues to the SEIU. 
Texas already has a few laws that give advantage to organized labor, such as those governing formation of public sector unions.  The proposed political disclosure bill requires transparency for everyone except those who funnel campaign funds through organized labor.  And contrary to what supporters of the exemption have claimed, labor unions are not required to disclose contributions from non-members, even for political activity.
With its union exemption measure, the proposed disclosure law as written should be unacceptable to Texans who would like to keep this a “right to work” state.  Giving unions even the slightest advantage increases their political power and does not bode well for the future of the Lone Star State. 

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