State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Deducing action on union deductions ban, groups ramp up

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jan 27, 2014 10:26 PM
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A rhetorical fight is brewing over whether public employee unions in Pennsylvania should be able to automatically deduct union dues and voluntary political contributions from most workers' pay. A measure banning such deductions, though it hasn't been put on a voting schedule, has become the subject of indignant statements from pro-union and anti-union groups alike.

Its sponsor, Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), assembled supporters of his bill for a press conference in the Capitol Monday. He said the fact that union dues and a voluntary political contribution can be deducted from a public worker's wage is a "glaring ethical problem" for state government.

"Individuals, as taxpayers, would raise the concern of, well, it just doesn't look right. And that, to me, is a problem," Cutler said. He spoke from a stage festooned with campaign ads for President Obama paid for the state's largest teachers union. But Cutler insists the problem is not how unions are spending political contributions, but that automatic deductions make state and local government a "middleman." Nor did Cutler argue that the deductions transfer a sizeable cost to state government, although county commissioners suggested the possibility automatic deductions do create additional work for government workers.

A Republican consultant mused Monday that when other state legislatures have passed similar legislation it has greatly reduced the political money collected by unions. Rick Bloomingdale, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO president, sees the measure in just that light: as an attempt to squash unions' political activity. The union is planning to stage a protest Tuesday of Cutler's bill, and its companion legislation in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair). Both proposals are still in their respective committees. Gov. Corbett recently voiced his support for the legislation. House State Government Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) said he thinks it could pass his committee right away, but still doesn't have majority support in the full House.

"I think it would probably be close right now, but I think the votes certainly can be there in the House and the Senate," Metcalfe said.

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