- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - School districts would be prohibited from deducting union dues from teachers’ checks under a bill approved Thursday in the Oklahoma Senate following a contentious debate in which opponents accused the measure’s supporters of bashing public school teachers.

Senators approved the measure 27-16 and sent it to Gov. Mary Fallin just days before thousands of Oklahoma educators, parents and school administrators are scheduled to rally at the Capitol to demand more funding for classrooms and better salaries.

“We’re going to tick off a bunch of teachers. We’re all of a sudden going to rile up the teachers against us,” Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, said of the measure, which divided the Senate’s majority GOP caucus. Shortey and other opponents tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill. Senators on both sides noted that they’d been subjected to bullying in email and social media by organizations for and against the measure.

Though the bill makes it illegal for any state agency to make payroll deductions for employees for membership dues in any organization that collectively bargains on behalf of its members, opponents say it was directed specifically at teachers who are members of the Oklahoma Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The measure doesn’t apply to state employees who are members of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association or municipal employees like police or firefighters.

OEA, the state’s largest teacher organization with 35,000 members, is one of the sponsors of Monday’s scheduled rally. An estimated 25,000 teachers and other supporters of public education attended a similar rally at the state Capitol last year.

Following the bill’s passage, OEA President Linda Hampton said the organization was disappointed - but not surprised.

“We’re confident that the OEA will emerge an even stronger organization,” Hampton said. “Attacking teachers and support professionals will only serve to unify our members.”

During debate, the measure’s Senate author, Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, said Fallin has indicated she plans to sign the measure into law. Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Supporters of the measure said they disagreed with the practice of allowing state workers to authorize payroll deductions for membership dues in an organization that’s involved in lobbying activities and politics.

“This is to get the state government out of collecting payroll deductions for different organizations,” Dahm said. Several senators said they were in favor of banning payroll deductions for dues for any group, including professional organizations, but amendments to expand the scope of the measure failed.

Dahm said the bill would not prevent anyone from joining a union, and that teachers could still pay membership dues with a personal credit card or draft from a bank account.

But opponents said the bill targets teachers and takes away a benefit of their employment.

“This bill is not policy, it is politics,” said Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, a former teacher. “We’re trying to come up with a solution when the problem does not exist.”

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Online:

House Bill 1749: https://bit.ly/1Dtu9gV


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