Unions see pending Pa. bills as a threat

Posted: January 16, 2014

HARRISBURG - Unions call it a thinly veiled attack on the heart of their mission to help middle-class workers.

Supporters counter that it's an issue of fairness.

It, in this case, is legislation that would effectively outlaw a practice unions across the state have come to rely on: automatic deductions of dues.

The proposal, outlined in separate House and Senate bills, would effectively strip public-sector unions (with the exception of those representing police and firefighters) of their ability to have members' dues deducted out of their paychecks. The measures would also prevent workers from signing up for automatic paycheck deductions to contribute to their unions' political initiatives.

Sen. John Eichelberger Jr. (R., Blair), the sponsor of the Senate bill, cast it as an issue of fairness: Why should a local or county or state government - supported by taxpayer money - be responsible for collecting dues for a private organization, especially one with a political arm?

"Every person who lives and pays taxes in a municipality or county or a state may not agree with what the union is doing with their money, so why should they participate in helping that union by collecting their dues?" Eichelberger asked.

Several unions are arguing that the bills are a concerted effort to take away their viability and damage their mission of helping workers secure good wages and fair conditions. They said the bills, which would affect tens of thousands of schoolteachers, laborers, and other workers, would thrust public-sector unions back decades, to when they were forced to hand-collect members' dues.

"They want to destroy the labor movement," said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

Other union representatives said privately that the real goal of the bills, which they note are being championed by conservative Republicans, is political: to make it harder for unions to collect political contributions from their members. They believe the legislation is being pushed by out-of-state groups with a conservative agenda.

Eichelberger countered that his bill would not restrict anyone's right to join a union, or a union's ability to represent its members. He noted that as a musician who has played in the Altoona Symphony Orchestra, he has been a union member for decades and sends in a check for his dues every year.

Whether either the House or Senate version of the bill gain any traction remains in question. There appears to be more enthusiasm in the House for the measure.

"There is a lot of talk about it," said Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republicans. "There is a consensus that's building. We are for the working person, and giving people the freedom to do what they want with their paychecks."

Jay Pagni, a spokesman for Gov. Corbett, would not say if the governor would sign the legislation should it reach his desk.

But he did say the governor "believes in individual rights of employees, public or private, to express their political views - but that doesn't mean he believes it should be the responsibility of public-sector employers to manage the administrative functions" of any private groups that represent them.


acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934

@AngelasInk

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