By Phillip Rawls
The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY — The future for one of the largest and best financed organizations in the state, the Alabama Education Association, is uncertain now that its main funding source ended.
The group can no longer use payroll deduction to collect dues from its 95,000 members. Spokeswoman Amy Marlowe said most of the teachers, school support workers and administrators who are association members have used payroll deductions but that the organization has been busy getting them to sign up for bank drafts.
The group hasn’t released how many have signed up, but Marlowe said, “It’s our new way of life.”
The payroll deductions for political organizations got prohibited by a state law that Republicans passed just a month after they took control of the Legislature in November 2010. Its enforcement was delayed until this week because of a legal challenge filed by the association.
“The law was absolutely targeted at AEA,” Marlowe said.
The sponsor of the law, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said payroll deductions are almost out of sight and out of mind. With bank drafts, members will see the payment each month on their bank statements and may look more closely at what the teachers association is doing, he said.
“That’s the biggest challenge AEA has. They are a liberal organization that supports other liberal organizations, and many of their members are not,” Marsh said.
Marsh was one of several senators who supported the law and beat AEA-funded opponents in the Republican primary June 3. Association-supported candidates did beat five incumbent House members.
That election showed the financial influence of AEA with payroll deduction. It reported spending nearly $7 million. In contrast, another large and influential group, the Business Council of Alabama, reported spending $1.5 million.
Jess Brown, a political science professor at Athens State University, said the education association doesn’t have the close personal relationship with its members that it had in the past and that the law will cause it to take a hit in membership, although it’s too early to say how many.
“AEA will remain an influential player on Goat Hill, but the old gray mare ain’t what she used to be,” said Brown, who has been an AEA member in the past.
Byrdie Larkin, a political science professor at Alabama State University, said ordinary citizens don’t monitor the Alabama Legislature.
She said the Republican-backed law won’t weaken the association if its members believe it is doing a good job monitoring the Legislature and representing members’ views at the Statehouse.
“When they have a strong history like the AEA, I don’t think the Republican Party will be successful,” said Larkin, who is a member of the American Federation of Teachers.
When Democrats controlled the Legislature, they passed a law that allowed members of public employee groups to have their dues and contributions to the groups’ political action committees deducted from their paychecks.
The 2010 law sponsored by Marsh ended that for any group that used the deductions for political activity. AEA challenged it in federal court and got a judge to block enforcement of the law until recently.
In a separate case filed in state court, a Shelby County judge ordered school systems to end payroll deductions to any PAC or membership organization unless those organizations certified by Monday that they were in compliance with the law and no longer involved in political activity. Marlowe said AEA couldn’t have done that and still represented its members’ interests.
“We are about the only voice of dissension left in town,” she said.
A supporter of the 2010 law, House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said payroll deductions gave the association an unfair advantage over other lobbying groups that have to get members to write checks for dues.
“The end of AEA’s payroll deduction is a win for Alabama taxpayers. It is simply unfair that Alabamians were spending their hard-earned tax dollars to help advance any labor union’s political agenda,” he said.