Some Republicans in the Florida Legislature are squaring off against unions over a measure that would prohibit public employers from collecting union dues through automatic payroll deductions.
Republicans call the measure "paycheck protection," and say it gives individual union members more power over how their dues money is spent. The law would prohibit public unions from utilizing payroll deductions and would require unions to get annual authorizations from members to use their dues for political reasons. But opponents liken the measure to union busting, saying it will make it more difficult for unions to collect dues. They also argue that the law is unnecessary because Florida is a right-to-work state where no employee can be forced to join a union and pay union dues. By choosing to join the union and pay dues, members are effectively supporting the union's agenda.
The back-and-forth has played out several times in House and Senate committee hearings where the bill has been considered. The House version, HB 1021, is being sponsored by Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary. Its Senate companion, SB 830, is sponsored by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.
Thrasher argued before the Senate Community Affairs Committee on March 14, 2011, that another reason to support his bill is to remove the government costs of processing union dues collections -- which in turn could be used for political purposes. Thrasher said he had heard from taxpayers who thought "their resources ought not be used to facilitate private political agendas."
In the middle of a complex policy discussion, this seemed like an important fact to pin down -- what do governments spend on collecting union dues through payroll deductions?
We caught up with Thrasher on the Senate floor to ask him if he had more information about the costs to government. He said he did not, but that there had to be some cost just by the nature of the government performing a task -- payroll deduction -- on behalf of a private entity.
"We need to get state and local governments out of the business of being involved in political purposes," he said, echoing comments he made to the Senate committee members.
Payroll deduction is common for all workers. Employees automatically have money taken out of their paycheck to pay for all kinds of things. Some deductions are voluntary: student loans, charitable donations, health insurance, life insurance, union dues. Some deductions are not: taxes, alimony and other court-ordered deductions.
The state of Florida currently has 364 groups or agencies that have the ability to take money directly from employees' paychecks. Here's the entire list provided to PolitiFact Florida by the state Chief Financial Officer's Office.
Three different state legislative analysts have examined the bill, and all at least attempted to see how much governments spend deducting union dues from pay checks. The answer was generally not much, if anything.
A House staff analysis said the elimination of payroll deduction for employee unions "may result in a positive, but insignificant, fiscal impact on public employers."
A second House analysis said the elimination of payroll deductions "may result in a neutral fiscal impact to public employers."
A Senate staff analysis declared the fiscal impact to governments "indeterminate."
The CFO's office, which oversees the state payroll system through the Bureau of State Payrolls, told PolitiFact Florida that the process for setting up payroll deduction is "by and large automated."
Spokeswoman Alexis Lambert said it's as simple as some group requesting a deduction, that request being approved or denied, and then the bureau assigning a deduction code. "The bureau's deduction code process is, by and large, automated and represents a minimal cost," Lambert said.
Practically speaking, there is some personnel time required to set up the deduction and that's about it.
State statutes also permit governments to ask unions to pay for deduction costs as part of collective bargaining. Section 447.303, which discusses dues collection for public employees, says that "reasonable costs to the employer of said deductions shall be a proper subject of collective bargaining."
And then there's Dorworth, the House sponsor, who told members of the House Budget Committee on March 21, 2011, that eliminating payroll deductions isn't a cost-savings measure. In responding to a question about the cost of eliminating the payroll deductions, Dorworth said, "I tend to agree. There's not any (financial) impact either way."
Whatever the state spends on processing payroll deductions, it is so small no one can quantify it. Governments also could ask unions to pay for the cost as part of a union's collective bargaining agreement. There are reasons to vote for this bill, and Dorworth and Thrasher have articulated them, but cost isn't one of them. To us, that makes Thrasher's claim Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.