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Paycheck Protection Bill Scrutinized During Missouri House Hearing

Republican lawmakers in Missouri are again trying to pass so-called "paycheck protection" legislation that would bar some unions from automatically withholding dues from employees.

House Bill 1617 would require public employee labor unions to get annual written permission from each employee before it can withhold union dues or use those dues for political purposes.  First responders, i.e. police, firefighters and paramedics, would be exempt from the proposal.  Jay Atkins, General Counsel for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was the only witness to testify in favor.  He told the House Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety that organized labor has a significant advantage over its workers, compared to non-union employers.

"I (had) been a public employee for a number of years," Atkins said.  "Based on the circumstances in my life and my family's life, I was given the opportunity every year to either opt in or stay out of having monies deducted from my take-home pay…they had to ask my permission to do it every year – unions don't."

Several labor groups testified against the bill, including Clark Brown from the Missouri State Council of Service Employees International Union, or SEIU.

"I can't tell you any firmer than this is an act of big government regulating something that isn't even necessary," Brown said.  "This is a solely agreed upon issue done with the employee – the employee does not have to agree to do our payroll deductions."

Bradley Harmon, President of Communication Workers of America Local 6355, also testified that employee payroll deductions are voluntary.

"We have a contract with the state (of Missouri) that covers about 6,000 employees," Harmon said.  "The only people who pay dues to CWA 6355 are people who voluntarily signed a membership authorization...it says on the authorization form that if somebody wants to withdraw membership, they send in a written request to withdraw their membership, and when they do their request is processed."

The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, contends, though, that one of her constituents has had difficulty cancelling membership in the Communication Workers of America.

"She was a member of the CWA down in the Bootheel, and she's a state employee," Rehder testified."  "She received many newsletters and different mailings that were very much in support of things that she opposed.  (They) didn't have (anything) to do with her job, but it was (hand) bills and candidates that she did not agree with.  She has actually cancelled her union membership, but it took her three times to make that cancellation complete."

Rehder did not identify her constituent, prompting criticism from Democrats on the committee.  State Rep. Michael Frame, D-Jefferson County, asked Rehder if that constituent were present.  When Rehder said that she was working, Frame said, "That always seems to be the case...when we ask for witnesses and specifics, it never seems to be forthcoming."

Labor unions and their allies have contended in recent years that paycheck protection bills have been used as part of an overall campaign to push for Right to Work legislation.

A similar bill, Senate Bill 29, was passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate last year, but vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat. It was brought up for an override attempt during last fall's veto session, but fell short of the 2/3 majority needed because Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, voted "no" and Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, was absent during the vote.

In addition, 20 House Republicans had joined Democrats in opposing Senate Bill 29 during the 2013 regular session.

Rehder's bill differs from last year's paycheck protection bill, in that it would require voter approval before it would become law. The House Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety took no action on the bill Monday.

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