- Associated Press - Monday, March 20, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers are considering legislation that would stop the state from deducting public employees’ union dues from their paychecks, a measure that union leaders said unfairly penalizes collective bargaining groups.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon would prohibit public employers from deducting union dues or assessments from the wages of public employees “including, but not limited to, public school employees.”

“This raises the question whether (the bill) is a barefooted political retribution or whether the sponsors don’t trust educators,” state teachers union president Nancy Fulton said Monday.

The measure is unlikely to advance from the seven-member Business and Labor Committee due to opposition from the three Democratic senators and liberal independent Sen. Ernie Chambers. But if it makes it to the full Legislature, Nebraska could join several other states where Republicans in recent years have passed similar laws or are now considering them.

Wisconsin’s far-reaching 2011 union law ended paycheck deductions for most unionized public employees, and Alabama prohibited deductions after Republicans gained control of the state’s Legislature in 2011. Pennsylvania and Missouri are currently considering similar legislation.

Brewer said he doesn’t want to eliminate unions in any way but instead “get the government out of the business of being a dues collector.” Paying dues should be a conscious choice from union members, he said.

The bill is a “step in the right direction” toward eliminating public employee unions, said Lincoln City Council candidate Deb Andrews. She said unionized employees control government bureaucracy and prioritize their jobs, pensions and benefits over other taxpayers.

“We don’t elect them, but they control us,” she said.

Nebraska already is a “right-to-work” state, where union membership is voluntary and non-union employees are covered by union contracts. Employers can choose whether to agree to paycheck deductions during negotiations, and they take the minimal cost associated with it into account, Nebraska Association of Public Employees executive director Mike Marvin said.

Smaller collective bargaining groups, like the Southeast Community College Faculty Association, may be unable to collect dues, association president Dennis Toalson said. His union has about 275 members who have $12 a month deducted from their paychecks, Toalson added.

“This would really limit our ability to function,” he said.

Removing payroll deductions for unions and leaving them for charitable donations, employees’ share of health care and 401(K) deductions doesn’t make sense, Omaha Firefighters Association President Steve LeClair said.

“I know that there’s this perception that unions are just a pure support for the Democratic Party,” LeClair said. “Firefighters look for people who support public safety, whether they have a D, a R or a L behind their name.”

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Follow Julia Shumway on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JMShumway

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