To some, it might seem a simple accounting mandate. To others it is an erosion of their rights to collective bargaining.
Senate and House bills were entered during the 2013 session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to amend the act of July 23, 1970, establishing rights of public employees to organize and bargain collectively.
The amendment adds, "Membership dues deduction and political contributions collected by the employer shall not be subject to bargaining for public employees covered under this act."
Times Observer photo by Rob Andersen
Contentious bill meeting
Representatives from various public unions met with State Rep. Kathy Rapp about House Bill 1507, regarding the payroll deduction of union dues. While several had questions or made statements, Andy Moore (in photo at left) of the City of Warren Fire Department led the way.
It further states, "Any collective bargaining agreement entered into after the effective date of this section with public employees shall not contain such provisions."
Andy Moore, president of the International Association of Firefighters' Local 1835, said the bill is reminiscent of the Wisconsin-style Right to Work bill passed last year that effectively gutted collective bargaining rights for public employees in that state.
He said that the bills House Bill 1507 which is co-sponsored by State Rep. Kathy Rapp, and Senate Bill 1034 were presumably written to cut the expenses of payroll deductions of union dues, which are negligible.
Dozens of local public union representatives met with Rapp at her Warren office on Tuesday afternoon to express their disapproval of the bill. After the conference room was filled, more waited outside the building.
"The unions' position is that the cost is not quantifiable, and there really is no cost, similar to other payroll deductions," Moore said. "The unions oppose it because there is no reason or problem and we do fear it's a domino effect. What's next? Right to work legislation?"
Rapp said that the legislation was not about right to work, rather it was to insure that taxpayer dollars are not used for political purposes. "It's a matter of ethics," she said.
Right-to-work laws forbid unions and employers from entering into agreements requiring employees to join a union and pay dues and fees to it in order to get or keep a job.
Jim Crossley, who works for PennDOT, said, "I see this as a union-busting bill."
Rapp replied, "I think that everyone should be able to make that choice. It's a matter of personal freedom. I don't think that belonging to a union should be a condition of employment."
She said that, as things stand, "Taxpayers are basically paying for the collection of union dues."
The amount of money involved with the payroll deduction "doesn't matter, you have to draw the line somewhere. We have legislators serving time in jail for using taxpayers money in political campaigns," she added.
Employees who do not voluntarily pay dues and initiation fees still receive the benefits the union provides. Unions call such people "free riders."
"The bill basically forces firefighter unions to represent non-members free of charge, with no meaningful way to collect fees for services," Moore said in a point paper.
According to Moore, the bills as currently written, "carve out" municipal firefighters and police from other public sector unions by not including them in the requirements. Public authority, such as airports, emergency personnel would be included in the bill.
During the meeting he said that emergency workers would be running around collecting dues instead of dealing with safety issues.
Rapp responded, "I am trying very hard to help with emergency management issues," noting that she serves on the Veterans' Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
"Aside from being completely unfair to teachers, social workers and other public employees, House Bill 1507 will harm firefighters and our families by leaving us virtually alone to defend ourselves against attacks against our basic bargain, safety and pension rights," Moore said.
Rapp said the bill was referred to the State Government Committee on June 10, and Rep. Bryan Cutler was working on amendments to insure the bill compiles with labor agreements, and would not apply to any uniformed safety officers that are not permitted to strike.
"The bill has a lot of weaknesses," she said. "That's why it's not on the floor." She added that each year, several thousand bills are introduced, and only a few hundred make it to the floor for a vote.
Rich Bimber, Rapp's outreach constituent liason, said, "This is an election year. If the bill isn't brought up, it will probably die."
If the bill does come out of committee, Rapp invited the group to another meeting once the final version was ready.