Pennsylvania House lawmakers engage in extended fight over union dues

Members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives advanced a measure to outlaw automatic deductions from state workers’ paychecks.debate.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

Pennsylvania’s House has kicked forward a proposal to outlaw automatic deductions from state workers’ paychecks for union dues that contribute to political activity.

Supporters call it a “paycheck protection” bill.

Though they had a lot on their agenda Tuesday, lawmakers devoted much of the day to arguments on the measure.

Under current law, a nominal amount of taxpayer money goes toward making automatic deductions for taxes, Medicare, or charitable donations.

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Union dues are collected this way too, as are contributions to unions political activities. Many Republicans say that’s improper, since unions also lobby for Democratic causes.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, said the bill is intended “stop the use of taxpayer resources from being used by some private political organization to collect their political money that’s used to influence the outcome of elections.”

A number of Democrats introduced amendments to call out what they see as hypocrisy.

“You can have a check-off for Aflac or Nationwide or you name the insurer. That’s fine, despite the fact that they advocate for political causes that many in this room find abhorrent,” said Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-Montgomery, who tangled with Metcalfe several times on the floor.

Rep. Madeleine Dean, R-Montgomery County, also noted that the state money used to collect political union contributions is negligible.

“The treasurer estimates that it is $100 statewide,” she said.

That estimate came from former treasurer Rob McCord. Some Republicans have questioned its accuracy. Others argued that the problem was not purely financial, but ethical.

No amendments passed, but the plan did.

It needs one more vote in the House before going to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.

Wolf, who opposes it, said it’s an attempt to “ramrod protections for workers.”

This story has been updated to better reflect that the bill would affect payments to unions that go toward political action, not union dues in general.

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