on February 23, 2015 at 5:55 PM, updated February 23, 2015 at 6:40 PM
The battle to end government collection of union dues is on again in Pennsylvania.
The Senate State Government Committee on Monday voted 6-5 along mostly partisan lines to approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban the collection of union membership dues and political contributions from paychecks of state government and school district employees.
This action potentially could position this “paycheck protection” amendment legislation for a full vote by the Senate by Wednesday. The committee action, though, was enough to set public sector labor groups into full gear to persuade senators to stop the anti-union measure from advancing any further.
“This bill attacks working people, bullies teachers, bus drivers, nurses and state employees and represents nothing more than a politically driven distraction from issues that Pennsylvanians care about. Make no mistake, this isn’t about policy. This is about politics, pure and simple,” said David Broderic, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
Dave Fillman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13, the largest of the state employee unions, sees the measure as an attempt to silence the voice of state employees.
“Hopefully most folks will realize that and see through this charade,” he said.
The Service Employees International Union fired off a news release challenging the action as essentially doing the bidding of conservative groups who want to ban payroll deductions for union dues while allowing them for insurance companies, big banks, “and other common members of ALEC that spend money on political action and lobbying.”
In explaining the bill to the state government committee, its sponsor, Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, didn’t mince words. “We should not be collecting money that’s used for political purposes, period,” Wagner said.
After the committee meeting, Wagner added, “the union can bill their members and if their members are happy with the value and the service, they’ll write them a check and they’ll pay the dues directly to the union.”
Wagner attempted to amend a school-related bill in the last legislative session to ban the deduction of union dues from school employees’ paychecks but it failed to pass the Senate by a 20-28 vote.
But Matt Brouillette, president of the conservative-leaning Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, is confident Wagner’s plan stands a better chance of gaining passage in the Senate this time round. He said it applies to more than just school employees and the Senate Republican majority has grown by three members, to 30, to the Democrats’ 20.
Whether the proposed constitutional amendment has the support of enough Republican members, though, remains in question. Two of them signaled that their vote on the measure was uncertain if it comes before the full Senate.
Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, for one, joined with Democratic committee members to vote against the bill. His vote came after he argued that the short notice he was given that Wagner’s bill was going to be considered on Monday didn’t allow him enough time to prepare amendments he wanted to offer.
Sen. Chuck McIlhinny, R-Bucks, said he supported moving the bill out of committee but was reserving his right to change his position on it “if something else doesn’t change in this bill.” McIlhinney couldn’t be reached later for comment to elaborate on what he wanted changed.
Sen. Tony Williams, D-Philadelphia, was unsuccessful in convincing the committee to table action on the bill until more input was received. Committee Chairman Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, said, “Most members on both sides of the aisle have made up their minds on where they stand. Now while I prefer public hearings on bills before moving them, I doubt any public hearing will change anyone’s mind on this issue.”
He also reminded senators that the constitutional amendment allows voters to make the final decision as to whether this provision should be added to the state’s constitution.It also involves a lengthier process than passing a law. It requires both the House and Senate to approve legislation in two consecutive legislative sessions before going to the voters for ratification. But it avoids a likely veto from Gov. Tom Wolf, who has said he is opposed to this idea.