GOP targets automatic deductions of union dues

Proposed legislation would eliminate federal employees' ability to pay union dues directly from their paychecks, a measure Republican lawmakers say would empower union members.

The 2011 Empower Employees Act, sponsored by Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., would prohibit union dues from being automatically deducted from federal workers' salaries. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., on Monday introduced companion legislation.

"This bill does not prohibit federal workers from joining a union or paying union dues," Scott said. "In fact, this legislation would increase employees' freedom by allowing them to choose to pay union dues rather than having them taken out of employees' paychecks before the workers even see the money."

Federal workers are not required to participate in automatic deductions and already have the option to submit union dues by cash or check. Employees fill out Form 1187 to elect payroll deductions and can end them at any time. According to Matt Biggs, legislative and political director of the International Federation of Technical and Professional Engineers, most dues-paying members use automatic deductions, and unions are required to represent even those who opt out.

Labor leaders criticized the measure as an attack on union representation and collective bargaining rights for federal employees.

"This would strangle federal unions' ability to collect resources, thereby all but eliminating our ability to exist," said Biggs.

William Dougan, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, called the legislation "union busting in its purest form."

"It is laughable that [Scott] would suggest that this bill increases federal employees' rights in the workplace," Dougan said. "By law, all federal union membership is completely voluntary. No employee can pay union dues without proactively approaching the union and submitting a form to their agency expressing their will to do so . . . When narrow-minded, ideologically driven partisan politics trump workers' rights, everybody loses."

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