Kansas lawmakers call it the Paycheck Protection Act. Some union members call it a first step in attacking the power of public unions.
Wednesday the Kansas House passed a first vote on a bill banning automatic payroll deductions of public union dues connected to political activity. Political activities include aiding or promoting the endorsement, nomination or defeat of a candidate for public office.
Teachers in the union pay dues. Right now that money can be automatically deducted from a paycheck and teachers say it's an easy way to pay their dues. Many times, that money is used for political purposes like supporting a candidate or lobbying.
The bill being debated in the legislature would only allow payroll deductions to be spent on union operations. If a union member wanted to support a political issue, they would have to write a separate check to the union. The union says in essence, fewer people would write those checks which would mean potentially less money and less power for the union.
“There needs to be separate accounts and the money cannot be co-mingled. One is political activities, the other is for operations of the union for their advocacy of their issues,” said Republican Representative Marvin Kleeb.
History teacher Larry Smith says the language of the bill is tricky. “The problem with the bill is that it is so generally defined that practically everything a union does would come under that heading "political activity,"’ said Smith.
Rep. Kleeb says it protects union members from pressures to make political contributions. “A bunch of them said I didn't want to be embarrassed, I didn't want to be ostracized. I didn't want to have any retribution. Whether any of that happened? I don't know. Like I said, it's kind of a self-imposed perception that's out there,” said Rep. Kleeb.
“This is a right to work state. Nobody is intimidated to join a union,” said Smith.
Because Kansas is a right to work state, teachers or other workers don't have to join a union. Members can already opt out of fees connected to political committees. Smith sees the Paycheck Protection Act as an attack on unions.
“This is the first step in destroying unions and so that's what they want to do is take away the funding for that,” said Smith.
The final House vote on the bill will be Thursday. Then it goes to the Kansas Senate. If passed, union members can still make political contributions to their union. They can write a check or have automatic deductions taken from their bank accounts instead of their paycheck.