HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania Republicans want to get the government out of the business of collecting dues on behalf of public employee unions, especially considering the unions use the money for political purposes – usually to help defeat Republican candidates.
“I’m not refuting the group’s rights to engage in this kind of activity,” state Rep. Bryan Cutler said in a news conference announcing legislation to end automatic dues deductions. “What I am questioning is the appropriateness of the government collecting political money.”
Cutler introduced HB 1507 in the Pennsylvania House, while a companion bill was submitted in the Senate. The legislation would affect only new union contracts by prohibiting government agencies (including public schools) from collecting union dues. The bill wouldn’t change the fact that many of Pennsylvania’s public employees are required to join a union as a condition of employment, or any current collective bargaining laws, officials told PennLive.com.
“There are people who used to work in this building who are now sitting in prison someplace for mixing political activity with official resources,” Sen. John Eichelberger, sponsor of the Senate legislation, told the news site.
Cutler said discipline procedures would need to be developed for public employees who refuse to pay dues directly to their unions. We imagine he offered that as an olive branch to the unions, but we hardly see the necessity. The relationship between unions and their members – including the payment of dues – should be a private matter that does not involve the state, one way or the other.
If union members want to voluntarily pay union dues, all they have to do is write a check and toss it in the mail. The state should not be pickpocketing employees on behalf of the unions.
Of course, the state’s public employee unions aren’t exactly happy about the proposal, and neither the Senate or House bills have garnered any Democratic support.
“What is this really about?” Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman David Broderic asked PennLive. “I think what this is really about is preventing people from making voluntary payroll deductions and have the effect of silencing the voice of middle-class Pennsylvanians.”
Those are certainly harsh accusations, but nothing in the legislation prevents middle-class Pennsylvanians from making voluntary payroll deductions. In fact, the new system would make the deductions far more voluntary than they currently are.
In Pennsylvania and many other states teachers and other public employees are automatically signed up for dues deductions and political contributions when they’re hired, unbeknownst to many. Those employees must specifically opt out of the deductions if they don’t want them, but the opt-out is typically limited to a very short time window each year that’s not widely publicized to members.
Under the proposed legislation, public employees would actually be given a chance to decide if they want to voluntarily contribute to their union. Isn’t that type of freedom of association what America is all about?
PSEA President Mike Crossley contends the legislation is “unfair” to unions, and an attempt to limit campaign contributions.
“This legislation is blatantly unfair – it applies to teachers, nurses and public safety workers but does not apply to big business interests – insurance companies, big banks and financial companies, all of whom are involved in politics,” Crossley told PennLive.
Crossley’s analogy, however, only highlights the fact that he either doesn’t understand the concept of the legislation, or that he’s playing the ignorant class-warfare card to pander to the public.
The fact is, big business interests don’t automatically collect money from employee paychecks using government resources. Private companies don’t require employees to pay annual fees to maintain employment, then use a portion of that money for political causes.
What is all the fuss really about? The unions are afraid that they will lose most of their revenue if the state doesn’t grab it for them before employees get their paychecks. But again, that’s between the unions and their members.
The purpose of government is to serve taxpayers, and collecting political contributions on behalf of private organized labor groups is the antithesis of that mission.
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