By Bob Luebke
The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), Professional Educators of North Carolina, State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC), and Teamsters Local 391 – what do these organizations have in common? They all are employee associations that have dues check-off services provided by the state of North Carolina.
Last time I checked, providing administrative services that can potentially save private organizations millions of dollars in labor or transaction costs was not a core function of state government. Moreover, since the benefit is provided to select groups, it puts government in the position of helping to pick winners and losers.
Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) introduced legislation (Senate Bill 375, Limit Payroll Deduct./Wage Withhold.) earlier this year to eliminate dues check-off for all public employees. The bill, which passed the Senate in early May, is now in the House. This is not the first time the General Assembly has sought to eliminate dues check-off.
For the longest time, NCAE has been closely aligned with the Democrats, who – prior to 2010 – had pretty much run state government for more than a century. NCAE had worked hard to defeat numerous Republicans. In 2010, with new Republican majorities in the House and Senate, there was a strong sentiment among Republicans that it was “payback” time. In 2011, the legislature passed dues check-off legislation specifically targeting NCAE. Although vetoed by then-Gov. Beverly Perdue (D), Republicans overturned the veto with the support of two Democrats. The victory was short-lived, however.
Critics challenged the bill as unconstitutional. In early January 2012, Wake County Superior Court judge Paul Gessner agreed and said it “constitutes retaliatory viewpoint discrimination” because it singled out one organization. The ruling prevented the state from implementing the law eliminating dues check-off.
Republicans tried yet again in 2014, passing House Bill 1133, which among other things authorized dues check-off only for an “employees’ association that has at least 40,000 members, the majority of whom are public schoolteachers.” The bill also required the State Auditor’s Office to certify that such an organization have at least 40,000 members to be eligible for dues check-off.
In 2014 and 2015, however, the Office of the State Auditor issued reports saying that auditors were not able to certify membership counts because NCAE refused to furnish the information, and the State Auditor’s Office has no authority to compel a private entity such as NCAE to turn over the information.
Unlike previous efforts, the new legislation eliminates dues check-off privileges for all public employee associations. A 2015 state auditor’s report listed 13 organizations for which the state was providing dues check-off services.
How much impact would such a bill have? It depends on which side of the equation you’re on and who you ask. Whatever the numbers, dues check-off conveys real benefits to these private organizations. The dues check-off deduction allows organizations to quickly provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits to organizational executives and membership. Unions know it too. Former NCAE Executive Director Scott Anderson was quoted in news reports as saying 80 percent of NCAE revenue was provided via dues check-off.
Eliminating dues check-off can be disastrous for unions. Less than two months after eliminating dues check-off in 2011, the Wisconsin Education Association Council laid off 40 percent of its staff. According to the Wisconsin-based MacIver Institute, membership in the council, the state’s largest teachers union, has declined 58 percent since the state passed the legislation. In Michigan, the local SEIU Healthcare Michigan lost $4.2 million in dues and 80 percent of its membership when 44,300 home-based caregivers opted to not join the union after the discovery of a scheme in which dues were skimmed from Medicare payments.
Public opinion does not support dues check-off. A March 2017 Civitas poll asked, “Should North Carolina government help labor unions by withholding union dues from state worker paychecks so the unions do not have to collect the money manually?” A clear majority, 61 percent, of respondents said no.
One of the reasons for this opposition is that NCAE and its parent organization, the National Education Association, frequently take political stands at odds with their membership, and have opposed nearly all major school reform efforts in North Carolina, including charter schools, merit pay and school vouchers.
There is nothing wrong with NCAE opposing those ideas. What is wrong is for an organization such as NCAE – or other organizations no matter its political perspective – to receive essentially what amounts to a public subsidy that allows them to process funds and facilitate recruitment, which provides them a distinct advantage over other organizations.
This practice should end because it’s wrong. It’s time for our state government to end support for dues check-off.