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Kansas Lawmakers Seek to Undermine Union Strength

by Clyde Weiss  |  February 19, 2013

The Kansas House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would take away the right of public service workers to have voluntary contributions to their unions – for political activity –deducted from their paychecks.

They did it at the urging of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, whose chief lobbyist left no doubt what motivates this outright assault on workers.

“I need this bill passed so we can get rid of public sector unions,” Chamber of Commerce Senior Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Stafford stated at a hearing on the measure.

State Rep. John Wilson, a Democrat who voted against the bill, called it a “thinly veiled political attack” on union members.

Stafford later apologized for his remarks, insisting he misspoke. But members of Kansas Organization of State Employees (KOSE) AFT/AFSCME Local 300 knew otherwise. They understand that this bill (HB 2023) is part of a greed-driven effort to undermine the rights of public service workers through their political activism and collective bargaining power.

Currently, public service workers can contribute to their union’s political action committee (PAC) by check, bank draft or automatic payroll deduction. This is not dues money. It is a voluntary donation. Lawmakers, acting at the behest of the Chamber, hope to weaken the voice of workers in the political arena by eliminating the payroll deduction option, since they can’t cut off the other options.

This attack goes hand-in-hand with the Chamber’s other attack on public service workers – a bill (HB 2123) that is laughably titled the “Public Employee Freedom Act.” It is anything but. KOSE calls it a “union killer.”

The bill eliminates all payroll deductions for public employees. While it does not prohibit collective bargaining, it allows any employee to negotiate for themselves, or union members may have the union bargain for them. Only union members would be covered by an agreement between the employer and the union.

There is still time to stop both of these measures. While the Republican-led House approved the paycheck deception bill, 68-58, the state Senate has yet to take it up. We urge the senators to carefully consider the blunt admission of the Chamber of Commerce lobbyist and end this mean-spirited attack on workers’ rights.

The unfortunately mislabeled “Freedom Act” should be swiftly rejected as well. The freedom to join a union, to bargain collectively, and to voluntarily support a union’s political program, all are essential to the growth of a strong and vital middle class.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce is pushing the right-wing agenda to destroy workers’ rights, but AFSCME members are fighting to preserve them wherever they are under attack.

In Kansas, KOSE members contacted their representatives to oppose HB 2023. That may have helped to persuade one lawmaker to switch his vote on final passage. Rep. Ken Corbet (R-Topeka) voted against the measure after first supporting it. He explained, “We heard from our constituents in the district and voted accordingly.”

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