The battle lines were clearly drawn in the Capitol Rotunda Wednesday afternoon, and public sector unions were the target of a boisterous bunch of conservatives.
More specifically, the practice of the state and school districts automatically deducting union dues from the paychecks of union members was assailed.
Opponents forcefully insisted that practice must stop and they pushed legislation called paycheck protection.
“It is wrong for government to collect political money,” said Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), whose bill, HB 1507, would stop automatic deduction of union dues.
“This is very much like the government collecting a bag full of money and delivering it into the hands of the union bosses,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler).
“Government unions control America and rob the taxpayers blind,” said Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York), who called paycheck protection the most important issue facing the legislature.
The rally was organized by Americans For Prosperity, and their big gun in the fight against unions was nationally known conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, a Philadelphia native, who told the crowd, “I’m not angry. I’m from Philly.”
She got laughs for that and applause for her stronger rhetoric.
“They get to have the government, the state, act as their bagmen for automatic withdrawal and deduction of dues. It’s not fair and it’s not right,” Malkin said.
Unions – PSEA, AFSCME, SEIU – point out that automatic payroll deductions are agreed to by the state and school districts in the collective bargaining process. It’s as simple as the click of a computer, they argue.
“They say taxpayer money’s being used, virtually none is,” said Wythe Keever, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the statewide teachers union. “Payroll systems are automated, so there’s virtually no money being used whatsoever.”
But Keever concedes that eliminating automatic deductions would cripple the unions, which he says is the real goal of paycheck protection.
“They want to limit the ability of unions to advocate for working-class people and then advance an agenda that protects the interests of the wealthy and powerful,” he said.
In a statement, SEIU said Americans For Prosperity is a front group for the Koch Brothers, out-of-state billionaires who are attacking middle class workers.
But Wagner said it’s the union bosses that wield all the power to the detriment of their own members. He said teachers and union workers should decide whether or not to write a dues check to a union.
“I don’t want to offend anybody, but there was a man 70-80 years ago, his name was Adolph Hitler. It was about power and control,” he said. “A guy in Russia right now, his name is Putin, it’s about power and control. Give people choices.”
So the fight is on at the Capitol. Traditionally and recently, on issues like school vouchers, liquor privatization and pension reform, unions get their way with lawmakers. But on this day, in this crowd, unions got clobbered.
“Why do you need government resources?” Malkin asked animatedly. “Why do you need government infrastructure? Collect your own damn dues,” she said to thunderous applause.
The House State Government Committee, chaired by Metcalfe, will have a public hearing on the paycheck protection bill Thursday.