Credit the Indiana Chamber of Commerce with being the first to remind us, this legislative season, of the immortal words of Henry Adams: “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”
How else does one explain the chamber’s current push to ban the practice of deducting union dues from the paychecks of Indiana school teachers? The Indianapolis Star reports Sunday that the business group has made the issue a top priority for the legislative session that starts in January.
Chamber President Kevin Brinegar tells the Star that government entities, such as school corporations, “shouldn’t be in the business of collecting union dues or, particularly, political contributions.” Maybe or maybe not, but isn’t that a decision that local elected officials can make?
No one is forcing school districts to deduct dues from the paychecks of teachers who voluntarily choose to join the Indiana State Teachers Association or the smaller Indiana Federation of Teachers. If districts are offering to make the deductions, it’s because local school boards have agreed to do so.
And teachers can’t be required to join the union or pay representation fees, even though the unions must represent all teachers covered by local contracts, whether they’re union members are not. That “right to freeload” was written into law for teachers in 1995, long before the legislature extended it to the private sector with its mislabeled right-to-work legislation last year.
While Brinegar claims there “must be” some cost to school districts for deducting and distributing union dues, one of the lawmakers who plans to sponsor the bill, Sen. Jim Smith, R-Charlestown, admits that’s not the case. Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, who also plans to sponsor a measure banning paycheck deductions of union dues, says his motivation is politics — because unions are active in politics, he says, “the state shouldn’t be involved in that relationship.”
Except that, if his bill becomes law, the state will be involving itself in that relationship – dictating the agreements that employers and employees may voluntarily reach, just as it did with right-to-work.
Schneider would extend the ban on deducting dues to unions that represent police officers and firefighters. Smith wouldn’t go that far. He says police and firefighters do work that is … well, important. Teachers, apparently not so much.
Of course, this measure has nothing to do with principle or intellectual consistency. The teachers’ unions scored a big upset this year when their candidate for superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz, knocked off Republican incumbent Tony Bennett. The chamber is sore about that. And with its Republican friends enjoying super-majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate, why not punish the unions while it can?
The irony is that all this union-bashing is likely to boomerang. Until Bennett came along, Indiana teachers’ unions were in danger of making themselves irrelevant with what seemed like petty fights over workplace rules and seniority protection and knee-jerk opposition to anything labeled reform. But the more teachers feel themselves to be under attack by hostile political forces, the more likely they are to turn to unions for protection. Maybe they can’t have their dues deducted from their paychecks. But many will be glad to write the union a check.