By Robert Mann
To hear its supporters describe it, the so-called “pay check” protection bill recently approved by a Louisiana House committee is all about saving tax dollars and giving government workers greater choices for paying their monthly union dues.
Public school teachers, firefighters, state troopers and other law enforcement officials can have their dues deducted from their paychecks and remitted to their respective unions. House Bill 418, sponsored by Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, would outlaw that practice. The bill is among the highest priorities in the current legislative session for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). The House Labor Committee approved the legislation last week in a 9-6 vote.
In public, LABI says it has no problem with public employee unions and their members. “The employees are the one making this investment,” Stephen Waguespack, LABI’s president, told a Louisiana House committee last month, “and they deserve the right to opt in or out anytime they want.” Testifying at the same hearing, Bishop said, “I’m not against unions. I am against overstepping of the government to deduct union dues.”
In private, however, the bill’s most prominent and powerful supporter doesn’t stress money savings and greater worker freedom. Instead, he talks enthusiastically about how the bill will gut public employee unions in Louisiana, particularly the teacher unions. “This is the impetus of it [the bill],” Lane Grigsby, Cajun Industries founder and chairman, said during a private April 14 meeting of LABI leaders. “When you cut off the unions’ funding, they lose their stroke.”
Grigsby isn’t just a powerful, politically active business executive who spends gobs of money each election cycle to support his candidates and causes. He serves on LABI’s Board of Directors and chairs LABI’s Education & Workforce Development Council, the powerhouse behind HB 418. Sitting silently by his side as he spoke in April was one of LABI’s top officials, Brigitte Nieland, the organization’s vice president for Workforce Development and Research.
In a video of that meeting provided to me by someone who viewed it on LABI’s website (who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal), Grigsby makes it clear that LABI’s main reasons for supporting this bill are not enhanced worker freedoms or saving state money. “This payroll protection thing is a big deal,” Grigsby said. “And for people to say, ‘Well, it doesn’t really save any money,’ they’re just not getting the philosophical concept of what we’re doing here. This is a fatal spear to the heart of the giant. It truly is.” The “giant,” to Grigsby, is the teacher unions.
In his testimony before the House Labor Committee, Waguespack stressed the unfairness of a government institution collecting union dues. “Now, some of the leaders of the unions will probably want to make this a personal issue,” Waguespack told committee members. “Now, I got be honest with you. I don’t think that’s a fair reflection of what this discussion is. . . . We disagree on this issue. It’s not personal. This is a policy issue.”
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