An overview of the payroll deduction/dues checkoff issue

Buried deep within the Executive Organization Act of 1973 is NC General Statute 143B-426.40A(g).  It reads,

Payroll Deduction for Payments to Certain Employees’ Associations Allowed. — An employee of the State or any of its political subdivisions, institutions, departments, bureaus, agencies or commissions, or any of its local boards of education or community colleges, who is a member of a domiciled employees’ association that has at least 2,000 members, 500 of whom are employees of the State, a political subdivision of the State, or public school employees, may authorize, in writing, the periodic deduction each payroll period from the employee’s salary or wages a designated lump sum to be paid to the employees’ association.

In other words, an organization that meets the above criteria may coordinate with a state or local agency to deduct dues or contributions from employees’ paychecks.  These deductions are not mandatory.  Many organizations and unions allow members to pay their dues or contributions using a check written directly to the group or a monthly credit card charge.  The paychecks of non-members are unaffected.

Should state and local agencies be in the business of collecting and disbursing funds to independent organizations and unions? Republicans do not think so.  Their override of the vetoed Senate Bill 727 eliminated the payroll deduction option for a number of groups, including the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and the Professional Educators of North Carolina (PENC).

Despite the fact that the veto override will change dues collection for multiple organizations, NCAE leaders believed that their criticism of Republicans made them the target of the bill.  As such, they charge the NC General Assembly violated their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly.  They also complain that the override violated the “equal protection” clause because the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) was not included in the bill.  Of course, there is nothing to stop Republicans from eliminating payroll deduction for SEANC in a subsequent legislative session, which, by the way, is something they should do.

It is pretty apparent that the NCAE is following the Alabama Education Association (AEA) playbook.  Last year, the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta overturned an Alabama law that would have banned payroll deductions for members of the AEA.  The AEA also argued that ban violated free speech and equal protection provisions guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. Likewise, they complained that the law was vague, unfair, and cost the organization millions of dollars and thousands of members.

This gets to the reason why the NCAE and AEA care so much about payroll deduction.  Money!  In 1978, former National Education Association general counsel Robert Chanin explained,

It is well-recognized that if you take away the mechanism of payroll deduction you won’t collect a penny from these people, and it has nothing to do with voluntary or involuntary. I think it has a lot to do with the nature of the beast, and the beasts who are our teachers… [They] simply don’t come up with the money regardless of the purpose.

Think about it in terms of a gym membership.  You sign up and the gym begins to withdraw their membership fee every month.  It is easy to become accustomed to the withdraw.  You stop going to the gym and do not think about the fee that the gym dutifully collects every month.  If you are alerted to the withdraw and/or have to change the method of payment, you are forced to consider whether the cost outweighs the benefit.  Obviously, few would choose to extend an unused and costly gym membership.

My view is pretty straightforward.  If an employee feels strongly about regularly supporting a cause, they should arrange for the organization automatically to withdraw the funds from a personal checking account or request that they charge a credit or debit card on a monthly basis. In this way, we can further separate public institutions from the private affairs of public employees.

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