1-SB 13, Powered by Ideology and No Evidence of a Problem, Moves Forward

2-Drug Testing for Unemployed Workers Re-Enters the Horizon

3-ULLCO Endorses Licensing Bill

4-U.S. Women's Hockey Team Reaches Deal to End Strike, But Only After Amazing Level of Solidarity Within the Sport

5-Info on Corpus Christi's Cesar Cha¡vez Celebration

1. The Texas Senate yesterday tentatively approved SB 13, the Paycheck Deception bill that takes away the freedom of state and local employees to support the labor organizations of their choice through payroll dues deduction.

   The vote to send the measure to a final vote Thursday was 20-11. All 11 Democrats voted "no" and most of them engaged energetically in debate with the bill's author, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

   Huffman, knowing she had the votes, repeatedly fell back on the argument that government should not be in the business of collecting dues for labor organizations. She never offered any justification for that view beyond ideology. Nor did she provide evidence of a problem with using the same voluntary, cost-free payroll deduction system that state and local employees may steer to insurance companies, advocacy organizations and charities.

   Huffman tried to make the distinction between First Responders, who are exempt from the bill, and other state and local employees by saying police and firefighter unions are not known to "harass" employers in Texas. But she had no examples in which other unions of public employees had "harassed" employers.

   "One person's harassment is another person's political activism," Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said while questioning Huffman about the bill. 

   Watson noted the main proponents of the bill are business organizations that do not represent public employees. 

   Huffman was also grilled by Sens. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, José Rodriguez, D-El Paso, John Whitmire, D-Houston, Royce West, D-Dallas, and Borris Miles, D-Houston. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, offered several strong amendments, but they were voted down by the same margin that the bill passed. The senators relayed testimony from a variety of public employees who said SB 13 would be a significant hardship to them and they could not understand why the Legislature would pursue the bill.

   At one point, Huffman declared, "This is a fight against unions." But it was beyond that, even though the measure was first conceived by the rabidly anti-union National Right to Work Foundation and even though the Texas Public Policy Foundation published a report estimating a substantial decline in public union membership if the bill becomes law. It's a fight against teachers, against correctional officers, against child abuse investigators and against most other stripes of public employees who only want what most working people would consider a routine employer service.

   Particularly galling was Huffman's general assertion that correctional officers, teachers and other dedicated public employees fall short in some way when it comes to meriting payroll deduction, which state and local governments basically provide with a few clicks of a keyboard. 

   Huffman was under certain misimpressions. In questioning by Whitmire, she repeatedly declared that it would be "easy" for unions to collect dues through some automatic process outside payroll deduction. Whitmire stated, however, that many state employees make little and do not have either checking accounts or credit cards. Huffman was skeptical that some union members essentially operate on a cash-in, cash-out basis.

   Despite her assertion that it would be easy to collect dues from public employees outside payroll deduction, Huffman clearly recognized that when other states approved similar bills, union membership dropped. 

   The only amendment that got sufficient votes to go on the bill was Huffman language to restore payroll deduction to police officers who work in school districts. But some law officers are still left out of payroll dues deduction.

  The Texas AFL-CIO issued this statement in the wake of today's action: CLICK HERE TO READ

2. Unemployment Insurance is an earned benefit for those who are unfortunate enough to lose their job through no fault of their own. That means no finding of drug abuse has taken place in connection with the dismissal.

   But President Trump is expected to sign legislation that will enable states to administer drug tests to the jobless, Governing Magazine reports. Failing the tests could lead to denial of UI payments.

   Texas approved a law in 2013 that allows drug testing in cases that might be relevant to the unemployed worker's occupation. (The Texas AFL-CIO opposed that bill. Many employers already administer such tests as part of the hiring process, and it's hard to see drug tests for UI as anything but an attempt to slice some recipients off the rolls.) The Obama administration never specified which occupations could be covered under the law, so no Texan has yet faced a drug test as a condition of receiving UI benefits. 

   That could change soon:

   Ever since unemployment insurance was created by the Social Security Act of 1935, states were forbidden from drug testing applicants. But last year, the Obama administration finalized rules that let states do so under two circumstances: when applicants lost their employment because of illegal drug use, or when they worked in an occupation "that regularly conducts drug testing," such as directing air traffic or jobs that require use of a firearm.

  Conservatives, however, complained that the circumstances were too narrow.

Republican members of the House Committee on Ways and Means said the rule "contradicts Congressional intent [...] to assure future employers that UI claimants reentering the workforce are truly able and available for work." Wisconsin's Scott Walker, chair of the Republican Governors Association, argued that the regulation doesn't address a key concern among employers: that job applicants often pass through an initial screening only to fail a drug test.

  Now that Republicans have control of the U.S. House and Senate, they sent the president a bill, H.J.Res.42, that would allow for the rules to be rewritten. It's unclear, though, who would rewrite them.

  Trump, who has expressed support for the legislation, could direct the Labor Department to rewrite the regulation, or Congress could pass a new law on the issue. Last year, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas -- who sponsored H.J.Res.42 -- introduced the Ready to Work Act that would have let states decide when unemployment applicants can be drug tested. The bill died in committee but could be revived now that it's likely to garner more support from the White House.

  Virtually all states already disqualify a person for unemployment compensation if they lost their job because of drug use. Three states (Mississippi, Texas and Wisconsin) have laws calling for drug testing in their unemployment insurance programs. So far, none have implemented them. But if the rules about drug testing are relaxed, they may start -- and more states could follow suit.

  Read more:

3. The United Labor Legislative Committee today ENDORSED HB 1508 by Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, which would require educational programs aiming toward a license to disclose to applicants that any prior convictions may affect their eligibility for that license.

4. As usual, the redoubtable Dave Zirin's sports-writing brings a progressive perspective along with I-wish-I-wrote-that talent. Zirin's take on the now-ended strike by the U.S. women's hockey team captures in a majestic opening paragraph why labor unions have been good for professional athletes, some of whom make more money in a year than ordinary working people can only dream of making in a lifetime.

   In the case of women's hockey, the U.S. is among the best teams in the world. Yet the powers-that-be, in their insistence on buying world-class talent for pennies on the dollar, were attempting to field - or, in this case, ice - a replacement team. What could possibly go wrong?:

   The historic power of sports unions is rooted in three truths: they have a long record of improving wages and working conditions for their members; they are one of the few places in US society where the issues of labor and collective bargaining are discussed under a powerful spotlight; and most critically, when sports unions win, their sport invariably wins. Time and again, we have seen victories by players associations lead to the financial and competitive growth of the sport itself. There is a damn near comical history of team owners and commissioners in every league howling that the end is nigh when free agency or better practice schedules are won, only followed by more interest, higher ratings, and a better product on the field. That is why the strike of the US women's ice hockey team before the upcoming World Championships in Michigan matters so much for the future of their sport.

  ...[I]t comes down to decent wages, benefits, investment in youth programs, and an end to the petty disrespects like flying the men's team in business class while the women ride coach. These seem like reasonable demands, but US Hockey and their $440,000-a-year executive director Dave Ogrean have opted to hire scabs and field a "replacement team" for the World Championships. That effort is failing spectacularly. At all levels, women hockey players are seeing that scabbing at this critical juncture, would jeopardize the very future of their sport. 

  This resistance to scabbing started from the existing pool of professional women's hockey players. Speaking to Johnette Howard of ESPN, Anya Battaglino, the head of the National Women's Hockey League Players' Association as well as a player for Connecticut Whale, said, "What it basically came down to for us is, 'How do we foster the continued growth and development of women's hockey if we're willing to play at worlds as scabs? We're basically taking the position that if you're not for us, you're against us. I don't know of any player who told USA Hockey, yes." 

  Twitter is also filled with messages from women players who were offered the opportunity to be scabs. In "I am Spartacus" fashion, they are posting the same "screw off" message to USA Hockey, writing, "Today I will do what others won't do tomorrow so tomorrow I can do what others can't. I said no to USAH and will not play in the 2017WC.

  USA Hockey has been rejected by so many prospective replacements that, as has been widely reported, they have asked women in high school, in the 16 and under leagues, Division III hockey program, and have even approached - literally - "beer league" hockey players about taking the ice in place of the defending world champions. As a player who refused to scab told ESPN, "I mean, I just play in a beer league. I just play for fun now. I don't train like I did in college. It's insane." It is the equivalent of finding someone who plays flag football and sticking them into an NFL game to block Von Miller. It is also similarly dangerous. The idea that someone can just walk in without training an play in a World Championship is a recipe for injuries, lawsuits, and makes a mockery of the sport.  

  Read more:

5. Former Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller relays news of the 18thannual Cesar Chavez march in Corpus Christi.

   The event begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 1 at the corner of Port and Agnes and will be followed by an 11:30 a.m. celebration rally at Antonio E. Garcia Arts and Education Center, 2021 Agnes St., in Corpus Christi. Speakers include Moeller, former Mayor Nelda Martinez and Oscar Cantu, with special guest speaker Daria Vera, a leader in the 1966 farmworkers strike and march.

   For more information, contact Dr. Nancy Vera at or (361)855-0482.