Senate panel advances union bill

03/16/2011 12:00 AM

03/16/2011 12:07 AM

As a Wichita senator walked out in frustration, the Senate Commerce Committee advanced a bill Tuesday to reduce the political influence of unions by changing the way they can collect donations from their members.

"I find this bill highly offensive to working people," said Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, "to teachers, who haven't gotten a raise in two to three years, and firefighters and police who put their lives on the line."

Schodorf walked out of the committee meeting just before the final 6-3 vote, after being on the losing end of a series of 6-4 votes to table or amend the bill.

Eric Carter, a former lawmaker and a lawyer representing the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, argued for the bill. He said it protects workers from union coercion to make political contributions.

House Bill 2130, which has already cleared the House, would prohibit unions from collecting donations for their political action committees through voluntary payroll deductions by union workers.

At the Chamber of Commerce's request, the Senate committee passed an amendment to allow private-sector unions to continue to get payroll-deducted contributions from members, although it would require the union to get written permission from each donating member annually.

Public employees would be prohibited from using payroll deductions to donate to their unions' political action committees.

The bill has angered unions, which point out that its only named supporters are corporate interests, who they say do not have workers' best interests at heart.

The only supporters who offered testimony in the Senate on Tuesday were the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, a political action group.

"Paycheck protection laws reflect the defense of liberty, perhaps best articulated by Thomas Jefferson when he said: 'To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical,' " Americans for Prosperity executive director Derrick Sontag said in written testimony submitted to the committee.

But Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Association of State Employees, said that because Kansas is a "right to work" state, no employee is required to join a union or contribute to its political fund.

She showed the committee a copy of her union's enrollment form, which has a check box where employees can choose to have money withdrawn from their paychecks for their union dues.

It has a separate check box where workers can authorize withdrawal of contributions to the union's political fund, along with a line to fill in how much they want deducted for that.

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