TOPEKA — It was like a little slice of Wisconsin in the Kansas House on Thursday, when union advocates were thrown out of the chamber for disrupting a vote on a bill to reduce labor's political influence.
The 50 to 60 union workers and leaders were ejected from the public viewing gallery after bursting out in shouts of "Vote no! Vote no!" on House Bill 2130.
The demonstration was inspired — albeit at a much lower level of participation — by the situation in Madison, Wis. There, tens of thousands of union workers and their supporters have packed the Capitol for almost two weeks to fight efforts by that state's governor to increase benefit costs and eliminate collective-bargaining rights for public employees.
The Kansas bill would eliminate a paycheck checkoff that allows workers to voluntarily have donations to their union's political action committee deducted directly from their wages. The bill gained preliminary approval Wednesday and was up for a final vote Thursday.
As the labor supporters were escorted from the chamber balcony by Capitol security and Highway Patrol officers, House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said, "I don't believe I've ever seen a more dismal display of disrespect for the House," in 27 years as a legislator.
Moments later, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, responded that in his nine years, "I'm not sure I've seen a more dismal piece of legislation."
Davis' remark touched off a cheer — audible inside the House chamber — from a hallway outside where union supporters watched on a big-screen monitor after they were thrown out.
The final vote on the bill was 75-46.
Numerous Democratic representatives had a statement read into the record charging that Republicans are changing the law to strengthen their own political position for the next election. Much of the union political money supports Democratic candidates and views.
Several Republicans joined in a statement saying that the purpose of the bill is to protect union workers from having their dues money spent on political causes they might not support.
Before Thursday's session began, the labor supporters formed a gantlet at the entrance to the House chamber, cheering their supporters in the Legislature and yelling "Vote no!" at supporters of HB 2130.
"That was unexpected," said a smiling Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka, after walking through the cheering crowd.
Among the protesters was Dan Rutherford, a Boeing Wichita employee and president of Machinists Union Local 834.
He said there were representatives in the crowd from Boeing, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft and Bombardier.
Boeing worker David Robertson of Wichita said he was there to fight for workers to have freedom of speech.
Unions represented included teachers, plumbers, electrical workers and public employees, among others.
The protest was peaceful but loud.
At one point, a Highway Patrol officer leaned over the rail overlooking the demonstration and yelled "Excuse me folks, no disturbances, this is going to be your last warning."
"People's house!" one of the protesters shouted back.
As the session began, union supporters filed into the House public viewing gallery.
Bruce Tunnell, executive vice president of the Kansas AFL-CIO, told them, "Keep quiet, but when 2130 comes up, do whatever you want."