The battle over labor unions has reached a new state, with Kansas legislators due to start discussing a proposal that would curtail unions' political power on Wednesday.
The Kansas legislation would specifically prohibit public-employee unions from establishing automatic deductions from employee paychecks to pay for political activities -- even with the employees' agreement -- and would expand the current definition of such political activities under state law.
Advocates say it would protect union members from having to support ideas they don't believe in. Opponents say it would harm working families in the state by making it more difficult for public-employee unions to defend their members' interests. They also argue that the proposal isn't even needed under the state's current labor laws.
"House Bill 2023 appears to fix a problem that doesn't exist," Paul Lira, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 304, said in testimony submitted to the commerce committee. "There is no deception in how we use members' dues or political contributions. Our treasurer's report and our political activity are reported at all of our meetings."
Current Kansas state law prohibits public-employee unions from spending union dues on political activity, which it defines as work for or against candidates. The new legislation would add even voluntary paycheck deductions to the prohibited list, broaden the definition of political activity to include activity of a "partisan political and ideological nature," and ban public-employee unions from taking part in referendum campaigns.
The state House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee is scheduled to start debating the proposal Wednesday afternoon.
Opponents of the bill point out that as a right-to-work state, Kansas already guarantees workers' right to opt out of a union entirely. Moreover, Colin Curtis, a lobbyist for United Steelworkers 307, told The Huffington Post that unions in the state currently solicit political contributions separately from dues and do not require such donations from members. He stressed that the members who choose to donate to a union's political action committee have to fill out a separate contribution card and write a second check in order to make the donation.
Curtis said opponents are concerned the wording of the legislation could undermine labor's political influence.
"It is only directed at public-employee unions and not corporate PACs," Curtis said. "It tips the scales against blue-collar workers. Our most trusted public employees, like teachers, nurses and firefighters, can't use their voluntary contributions for political purposes."
Curtis was referencing the already strong influence of business-related interests in Kansas politics. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the Wichita-based Koch brothers, were involved in successful third-party campaigns to promote conservative Republican candidates for the Kansas Legislature last year. The Kansas Chamber did not return a call for comment on the legislation.
The bill does not list an individual sponsor, instead giving the commerce committee as the sponsor -- a common practice in Kansas politics.
State Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), a committee member, told HuffPost that he is in favor of the legislation. He said that the bill would make union political activities "transparent" and would mean that union members' funds would not be used to advance political philosophies they disagree with.
Claeys, the son of a union member, said that Kansans may join unions to participate in collective bargaining and other work-related activities, but still not support the unions' political agenda. He acknowledged that unions largely support Democrats, but said that the intent of the legislation was not to harm the Democratic Party. He also said the bill would not stop political activities by public-employee unions.
"This allows those who chose to opt out to do so," Claeys said. "It does not stop them from writing a check."
The bill is considered likely to pass Kansas' Republican-dominated Legislature, which became more conservative after the 2012 election. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has not taken a public position, with a spokeswoman telling HuffPost that Brownback would review the bill if legislators signed off. Moderates in the state have accused Brownback and his allies of attempting to turn Kansas into an "ultraconservative utopia."
Curtis said that union opponents are organizing in an attempt to derail the bill. He said the hope is that it will face the same pushback in Topeka that similar legislation generated in Wisconsin and Michigan.
"It is not only important that we speak up against this. It is important that working people in Kansas, unions and non-union members, speak up and call legislators," Curtis said.
Also on HuffPost:
Rudy Giuliani And The Price Of Milk
While running for president in 2007, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani <a href="http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/news_theswamp/2007/04/giulianis_price.html">told</a> a reporter at a Montgomery, Ala., supermarket that he estimates "a gallon of milk is probably about a $1.50, a loaf of bread about a $1.25, $1.30, last time I bought one." It must have been a few election cycles since his last trip: The grocery store's website listed milk for $3.38 and bread up to $3.49.
Dan Quayle And Single Mothers
During George H.W. Bush's reelection campaign in 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle <a href="http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1314&dat=19920521&id=b1tWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=NfADAAAAIBAJ&pg=6921,388223" target="_hplink">scoffed</a> at the "Murphy Brown situation," referring to a television character who had a child out of wedlock. Quayle called the Brown story "totally unreal," adding, "A highly paid professional woman [with a baby] ... give me a break."
Martha Coakley And Shaking Hands
In a display of aloofness that many political observers say led to her defeat by Republican Scott Brown, Democratic Senate candidate and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley erred in <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0110/Coakley_not_sweating_it.html" target="_hplink">brushing off</a> the idea of ramping up her campaigning. When asked whether she was being too apathetic, she referenced one of Brown's ads and fired back, "As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?"
Spiro Agnew And Poor Neighborhoods
Republican vice presidential candidate Spiro Agnew, branded as Richard Nixon's go-to guy on cities, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1996/09/18/us/spiro-t-agnew-ex-vice-president-dies-at-77.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm" target="_hplink">vowed</a> in 1968 to avoid poor neighborhoods. "If you've seen one slum, you've seen them all," Agnew said.
Gerald Ford And Tamales
While visiting the Alamo in 1976, President Gerald Ford <a href="http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/No-one-told-Ford-tamales-need-to-be-unwrapped-1536700.php" target="_hplink">bit</a> into a tamale through the husk, a faux pas later deemed the "Great Tamales Incident."
George H.W. Bush And Grocery Scanners
President George H.W. Bush caught flak for <a href="http://www.snopes.com/history/american/bushscan.asp" target="_hplink">appearing awed</a> by a supermarket check-out scanner while touring a grocers convention in 1992. It turned out the president was being shown a new bar code technology, and the convention worker who was alongside Bush later said it's "foolish to think the president doesn't know anything about grocery stores. He knew exactly what I was talking about."
George W. Bush And Gas Prices
In 2008, President George W. Bush <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/business/worldbusiness/03iht-assess.4.11654214.html?_r=1" target="_hplink">said</a> he had not heard predictions that gas prices could soon hit $4 a gallon. At the time, the national average was $3.29 a gallon.
John Kerry And Cheese Steak
In 2003, Democratic presidential contender John Kerry <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/battle10/244119/bloombergs-john-kerry-cheesesteak-moment-thomas-shakely#" target="_hplink">ordered</a> Swiss cheese on a cheese steak while campaigning in South Philadelphia, straying from the traditional favorite topping, Cheez Whiz.
Michael Dukakis And The Tank
Democratic presidential contender Michael Dukakis <a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2008/01/17/the-photo-op-that-tanked" target="_hplink">tried</a> to one-up Republican opponent George H.W. Bush on national defense by striking a pose in an M1 Abrams tank.
Mitt Romney And Wawa
Mitt Romney has had his fair share of seemingly out-of-touch statements this election cycle, admitting he likes to "fire people" and <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/mitt-romney-sandwich-computer-wawa/story?id=16587170#.T-Ca3XBfaUc" target="_hplink">expressing amazement</a> at the touchscreen ordering system at convenience store Wawa.
Barack Obama And The Private Sector
President Barack Obama is not exempt from the "gotcha" moment. In June, he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/obama-doing-fine-private-sector_n_1581874.html" target="_hplink">described</a> the private sector economy as "doing fine." The gaffe immediately elicited comparisons with his 2008 Republican opponent, John McCain, who said that the "fundamentals of the economy are strong" in the midst of a crippling financial crisis.