Paycheck Protection: Who, exactly are we protecting her?

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By PennLive Editorial Board

“Paycheck protection.”

It sounds so friendly and benign: the government helping workers hang onto their hard-earned dollars.

But protection for whom and from what?

Ask those questions and the continuing push by some legislators to stop automatic deductions of dues from the paychecks of the state’s unionized employees stops looking altruistic and starts looking self-serving.

The bill that passed out of the State Government Committee, in late January, seeks to prohibit unions from using automatically deducted dues and contributions for any political purpose, including get-out-the-vote efforts, lobbying or voter-registration drives. But the ultimate goal in past “paycheck protection” drives has been to halt the automatic deduction entirely, ostensibly because it costs taxpayers money.

Let’s look at that specious argument first, because it is the most transparent.

Lots of things are automatically deducted from our paychecks — Social Security and Medicare, taxes, insurance and charities such as United Way.

Some employers will even divert some of your paycheck — automatically — into personal savings accounts and don’t forget your 401(k), if you have one.

This is done by computer, not by some clerk laboring over a ledger with a quill, like Bob Cratchit of yore.

When the state legislature most recently tried to do away with the union deduction, Lt. Gov. Mike Stack noted that the deduction cost, in total, is less than $100 a year to implement.

If the state were so concerned about the cost

to taxpayers, it could tack a penny onto every union worker’s check, cover the $100 and make a little profit.

At least the new bill is honest. Its supporters want to undermine public unions. Their excuse is the minority of state employees who work in union shops and don’t want to pay dues, for either financial or philosophical reasons.

Examined as a freedom-of-speech issue, we get it. It’s the same issue that, in the business world, overshadows the Citizens United decision that allows corporations to make political donations without the consent of all their shareholders.

No one should be forced to support political causes or policies they disagree with. But that is what the ballot box is for.

We saw this in the strongest terms in the recent presidential election: If you don’t like what your leaders are doing, speak out and step up.

In the case of a corporation, shareholders can vote out the board.

In a union, members who don’t like what their leadership is doing — including automatically deducting dues for whatever purpose — should get involved.

Don’t go running to government to impose your views on everyone else. Run for office. Vote. Make deductions an issue to be negotiated in the next contract.

(It’s ironic that this bill emerged from the Senate Education Committee, which proposed dropping mandatory sick days and other types of leave for teachers from state law, arguing that it would be better if these provisions were negotiated into union contracts, not legislated. But no one ever said government was consistent.)

We all know why Republicans want “paycheck protection” and have couched the issue in Orwellian terms: Unions tend to strongly support their opponents.

But this is not needed legislation.

And as many taxpaying voters in the commonwealth have asked, don’t legislators have more important things to do right now — such as property tax reform, pension reform and getting the state budget under control?

This Feb. 1, 2017 editorial was reprinted with permission of PennLive/The Patriot-News.

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