Public sector unions protest changes to dues collection

Public employees from across the state gather in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday afternoon during a rally to voice their objection to proposed “Paycheck Protection” legislation.

Public employees from across the state gather in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday afternoon during a rally to voice their objection to proposed “Paycheck Protection” legislation. Photo by Kile Brewer.

Public employee union members tried to knock out two birds with one stone Wednesday afternoon.

The Communications Workers of America and the Service Employees International Union fanned out across the Capitol for their annual public workers’ lobby day to talk to their representatives on a variety of issues. While at the Capitol, they also voiced their objection to a bill that could weaken their organizations by changing the way they collect membership dues.

Elmer Muhammad, a labor organizer with SEIU, said the group wants to see Medicaid expansion, an increase in the minimum wage and representatives’ votes against what he called “paycheck deception.”

“Paycheck deception,” sponsored by Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, who calls her bill “Paycheck Protection,” would prohibit unions from withholding any automatic deductions from their members’ paychecks without yearly authorization.

HB 1617 would affect only certain public unions, including employees of the departments of Health and Social Services, but it would spare “first responders,” including police officers, registered nurses and EMTs.

“I’m a people person,” Muhammad said, recognizing the need to cultivate face-to-face relationships with elected officials. But he also thought showing the union’s numbers was important. “We believe in solidarity,” he added.

Bradley Harmon, the president of CWA Local 6355, thought Rehder’s bill was a distraction. Instead of focusing on more pressing issues facing Missouri, he said, the legislature is trying take away organized labor’s voice on the job and in the Capitol.

He called 2014 “legislatively the most challenging year we’ve faced.”

On Monday, the Missouri House narrowly gave first-round approval to the paycheck bill, voting 83-70 on its perfected language.

Rep. T.J. Berry of Kearney, was one of the Republicans to vote against it. Berry, who has started five businesses, said the issue to him was “simple.”

“I don’t want anyone telling me how to spend my money,” he said.

Strategically, Berry said he understood why Republicans favor the bill: unions give money to Democrats, and stopping that flow would boost his party.

The House is expected to vote on the paycheck bill soon. It needs 82 yes votes before moving on to the Senate.

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