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Senate passes bill requiring written permission for union dues

By PHIL KABLER

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would require employees to give written authorization annually to have union dues deducted from their paychecks, if any portion of those dues are used for political activities, passed the Senate Tuesday on a party-line 21-12 vote, over objections from Democrats who argued it could be expensive to enforce (SB 239).

Senators rejected, also on a party line 12-21 vote, a motion by Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, to send the bill to Finance Committee to determine its cost to state agencies and localities.

“With a $400 million deficit, we’re looking for cuts, and now all of a sudden, we’re looking at legislation that will require more enforcement, more checks, that more than likely is going to cost more money,” Unger said.

Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said he didn’t think the bill needed to go to his committee, saying he believed the costs would be “de minimis,” a legal term of art meaning inconsequential.

Unger responded, “We hear ‘de minimis, de minimis.’ If you get enough de minimis together, that’s a lot of money.”

He noted the Legislature is looking at eliminating the state Women’s Commission to save a comparatively de minimis $155,000 a year.

Under the bill, employers would need written authorization from employees, using a form to be designed by the secretary of state’s office, to withhold union dues from employees’ paychecks. That’s the opposite of current law, in which an employee in a union shop must opt out of having union dues taken out as a payroll deduction.

The bill is silent on what agency would enforce the new law, although Judiciary Chairman Charlie Trump, R-Morgan, suggested it would probably fall under the purview of the Division of Labor’s Wage and Hour section.

Democrats argued it would put an undue paperwork burden on employers to process the authorization forms, including public employers, such as boards of education, and county and city governments.

“It doesn’t make sense if we’re trying to streamline government,” Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said. “I’m still trying to understand the intent of this bill.”

State labor leaders have said the bill is another attempt by legislative leadership to suppress union membership. The lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, made headlines last year during floor debate on right-to-work legislation when he referred to union members as “freeriders.”

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, questioned whether the authorization requirement would apply to other payroll deductions, such as health insurance or life insurance premiums, if the companies providing the coverage use a portion of those funds for political purposes including campaign contributions, or to advocate for or against legislation.

Trump said the legislation clearly does not apply to premiums for employee insurance coverage.

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.

Also Tuesday, there was strong bipartisan support for a bill to toughen felony criminal penalties for human trafficking, the act of using coercion to force individuals into commercial sexual activity or other forced labor.

“This measure is, in my opinion, a good, strong measure to say to the world, the nation and the world, not in West Virginia, not here,” said Trump, prior to a 33-0 passage vote for the bill (HB 2318).

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