Kansas Law Lets Teachers Choose Political Donations
A labor expert is praising a new Kansas law for promoting teachers' freedom to make informed political choices, and opinion polls show strong public support for it, including union members and government employees.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed House Bill 2022 into law on April 1, enacting a policy often referred to as “paycheck protection” for all Kansas employees.
“It could have been stronger,” said Paul Kersey, director of labor policy for the Illinois Policy Institute. “But with Kansas already having a right-to-work law, I think it’s a good step.”
Employees in right-to-work states cannot be forced to join or financially support a labor organization. Under the new law, Kansas unions also must obtain funds designated for political activities by asking members directly.
“Union dues collected by governments can't be used for electioneering,” Kersey said. “It gives government employees one more choice.”
Testifying before a state Senate committee, Kansas Association of American Educators executive director Garry Sigle told of his encounters with “teachers that are unaware that their union dues are going to political activity.” One recently contacted him, prompted by the public debate over HB 2022 to discover the union's political spending habits.
“We think it's important teachers are aware of where their dollars are going,” Sigle said. “Teachers should be able to fund whatever political candidate they support.”
Bill supporters argue the paycheck protection law reflects public opinion in the state.
“It's not the role of government to get into this political arena,” said Dave Trabert, president of the free-market Kansas Policy Institute (KPI).
Responding to a January survey KPI sponsored, 39 percent of Kansas adults said governments should collect general union dues but no political funds. Thirty percent opposed collecting any union dues, and 12 percent favored collecting all dues, with 19 percent unsure.
Plurality support for paycheck protection covered all age groups, political parties, regions, and income levels. Government employees and union members likewise favored the arrangement of collecting only nonpolitical dues money.
“Employees are still free to set up a direct draft from their bank accounts,” Trabert said. “What we’ll have to see is how many employees change their minds.”
The policy is narrowly targeted at how unions collect political funds. A broader prohibition on the use of government payroll systems not only would likely drain union campaign coffers but also their general dues revenue.
“In the states that lost payroll deduction, if I had to make a general rule I'd say they lose about 30 percent of their membership,” National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel recently told a group of fellow union leaders.
As originally introduced, HB 2022 would have barred government employee unions from lobbying lawmakers and testifying before legislative committees. Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Julia Lynn (R-Olathe) deleted that provision to get the votes to pass the bill.
Image by United Way of Greater St. Louis.