House Committee OKs Anti-Union Bill To Strip Dues Deduction

BATON ROUGE (AP) — An anti-union bill approved by a House committee Thursday sets the stage for a high-profile legislative fight between business and organized labor, even as many lawmakers have said they'd rather focus on the state's $1.6 billion budget shortfall.

         The vote split mostly along party lines, with one independent joining Republicans to support the bill on a 9-6 vote. Democrats were united in opposition to the bill, which would bar unions from automatically collecting dues from the paychecks of firefighters, police officers and teachers.

         "We're gonna publicize the hell out of this," said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. Other labor leaders threatened to target lawmakers during elections next fall.

         Debate in the House labor committee followed the contours of a broader national battle between business and labor — even though Louisiana is a right-to-work state where workers can opt out of unions.

         Supporters of the bill said they philosophically oppose forcing government bookkeepers to make paycheck deductions that could be funneled to political causes.

         "Most of my teacher friends join unions because of the insurance benefits and protection against litigation," said Kristin Magee, a fifth-grade teacher from Ascension Parish, who testified against the bill. "They have no idea that a portion of their union dues are going to political agendas set by unions."

         But labor leaders disagreed. Opponents' arguments, they say, are a smoke screen, hiding the real objective: crushing organized labor while vilifying public employees.

         Most payroll systems are automated and it takes no more than a keystroke to have United Way donations or investment payments deducted, labor leaders said.

         "Hogwash," said Sgt. Chris Stewart, president of the Baton Rouge police union. "They say this is going to save us money on payroll day? That's absolutely absurd."

         In advance of the hearing, Americans for Prosperity — the main political advocacy group for Charles and David Koch, billionaire brothers who spend millions on conservative causes — targeted committee members with mailers marketing the bill as "paycheck protection" that will shield workers and taxpayers alike from the cost of collecting union dues.

         Many lawmakers who supported the measure were more direct.

         "Some people don't think it's the government's place," said Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria. "It has nothing to do with vilifying teachers. We don't think organizations should have favoritism when it comes to withholding any dues."

         Democrats repeatedly tried to change the bill to their liking, including one proposed amendment that would have banned the governor from flying out of state if it wasn't on official business — a clear jab at Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is traveling the country as he builds a likely presidential campaign. But all of their attempts were shot down.

         – by AP Reporter Brian Slodysko

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