A push to curb the power of public employee unions in Kansas stalled Tuesday after becoming ensnared with a ban on deducting charitable contributions from some government paychecks.
A proposal to bar public employers from deducting union dues was amended last week to include a ban on non-mandatory deductions, such as charitable contributions, for state employees and school districts.
That move — drawing stiff opposition from United Way chapters — could torpedo the much broader legislation backed by conservatives and business groups.
They want to curb the influence of public employee unions that they blame for driving up the cost of government.
Among other things, the core bill drastically scales back what state employees can negotiate in collective bargaining talks, limiting the terms to salaries and wages. Items such as overtime pay, dress codes, work hours, sick leave and vacation time would be off limits.
The expanded payroll deduction ban drew a quick response across Kansas from United Way organizations fearful that their fundraising would suffer. Some lawmakers argued charities could find other ways to collect contributions electronically.
Amid that criticism, the bill looked headed to defeat in a Senate vote. So legislative leaders, sympathetic to the efforts to carve away at union power that constitute the heart of the bill, put off consideration to another day.
The United Way of Greater Kansas City estimated that the bill would cost the agency about $200,000 locally and about $1.5 million across the state.
“It’s always unfortunate when an organization gets pulled into legislation that is not directly related to that organization,” wrote Michelle Hogerty, the organization’s chief operating officer. “While not fair, we will continue to advocate for those in need.”
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said revisions may lie ahead for the legislation.
“Without the charity portion removed from the bill,” he said, “it probably kills the bill.”
Pro-business groups such as Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce have long pushed for limiting the power of public employee unions as a way of cutting taxpayer costs.
The ban on charitable contributions stemmed from a debate on barring the state, local governments and school districts from deducting union dues.
Lawmakers expanded the ban to other types of private deductions so that the bill wouldn’t single out unions.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, led the move to broaden the ban on paycheck deductions to, she said, bring balance and fairness to the bill. She pointed out that some employees were having money deducted for mortgages, truck payments and life insurance.
“When you ask us as your employer to make those payments for you,” she said, “your business becomes our business because we are expending manpower for that payroll process.”
She questioned why more United Way organizations didn’t make direct electronic donations from a contributor’s bank account easier. With the prevalence of technology, she said, contributions can be made in moments.
“I encourage United Way and other organizations to get up to the 21st Century and not make it the business of the state government to be their payroll collectors,” Baumgardner told Senators.
Hogerty, of the United Way, said a payroll deduction is simply easier.
“Without payroll deductions, an employee has many extra steps to go through to give and there is more opportunity for error from a financial institution,” she said.
While the charitable deductions flap may have set back the collective bargaining bill on Tuesday, it is not likely dead.
“Given the makeup of the Legislature, I would not say a bill that is ugly and heinous to working people is ever really dead,” said Rebecca Proctor, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees.
Sen. Julia Lynn, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, agreed the bill will be back this session or next.
“This issue,” she said, “will be back in some form.”
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