Protecting paychecks?

Unions call it a thinly-veiled attack at 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, outlined in separate House and Senate bills, that would effectively outlaw a practice many unions have come to rely on: automatic deductions of dues.

The measures 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. It would also prevent union members who voluntarily make contributions to support their unions' political initiatives from having those contributions automatically deducted.

Sen. John H. Eichelberger (R., Blair), the sponsor of the Senate version, said it comes down to a basic 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, and one with a political arm at that?

"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 pushing back, arguing that the bills are a concerted effort to take away unions' ability to be viable and carry out their mission of helping workers secure good wages and fair working conditions. They said the bills would thrust public-sector unions back decades to the days when they hand-collected dues.

"They want to destroy the labor movement," said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. "They are trying to take away our ability to be viable through our ability to collect dues. It's that simple."

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

Eichelberger countered that his bill does not restrict anyone's right to join a union, or a union’s ability to represent its members. He noted that he himself is a member of a musicians' union, and that he sends in a check for his dues every year.

Whether either the House or Senate version of the bill gain any legislative traction remains a question mark. As it stands now, 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."

-Angela Couloumbis


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