Capitol fight over automatic deduction of union dues - abc27 WHTM

Capitol fight over automatic deduction of union dues

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The glossies have been circulating in Midstate mailboxes for weeks.

In one, Julie R., a public school librarian, calls it unfair.

In another, Matt E., a teacher from Chester County, complains that he has no choice.

The two teachers' union employees are featured in an advertising campaign by the conservative Commonwealth Foundation. It's drawing attention to the fact that union dues of public-sector employees are automatically deducted from their paychecks.

"The unions are able to negotiate into their contracts to use taxpayer funded payroll services to automatically withhold, collect and bundle dues and campaign contributions and send them off to union headquarters," said CF's Matt Brouillette. "No other interest can do that."

The statewide teachers union - the PSEA - dismisses the ads as right-wing union busting.

"This is just a distraction," said PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever. "Their real intent is to weaken the rights of working people who belong to unions."

State Representative Mike Sturla - (D) Lancaster -  agrees with Keever's assessment.

"This is a concerted effort nationwide backed by the Koch brothers to try to mess with the unions," Sturla said. "If the Commonwealth Foundation was really transparent they'd admit this is a program funded by the Koch brothers."

But fellow Representative Bryan Cutler says it's just plain wrong that government collects dues for unions. His bill - HB 1506 - would abolish the practice.

"We don't do it for any other political organization that I'm aware of that might lobby on behalf of any individual purpose whether it be on the right or the left," Cutler said. "For example, the NRA doesn't come in and ask us to deduct directly for their dues."

The PSEA, which says it has 180,000 members, says it uses dues money for projects like the recently released "Solutions That Work," 20 research-backed recommendations to make teachers more effective in the classroom. But Keever admits that some dues money is spent on lobbying politicians in Harrisburg, and the union is unapologetic about it.

"Every decision affecting public education is, at the end of the day, a political decision," Keever said.

But using state-collected union dues to influence politicians fuels critics of the practice.

"We have politicians in jail for using taxpayer resources for political purposes," Brouillette said. "Why have we granted a special privilege for government unions?"

How much, exactly, does it cost to add a deduction line on an employee's check and steer it to the unions? We couldn't find a direct answer to that question.

Keever said nobody complains about deductions for health insurance, or the United Way, or gym memberships. He feels the argument is just a smoke screen to hurt union membership.

Sturla said the cost is minimal and said he'd support a proposal to find out exactly how much it costs to deduct the dues and bill the unions for it.

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