By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
TOPEKA — State Sen. Greg Smith is an educator to the core.
A union man he is not.
After a 20-year career in law enforcement, Smith signed on to teach at Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park. His father taught at the school for nearly four decades, and all five of his children have attended there.
Smith, a Republican from District 21, spoke Wednesday to a House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development, and he made it abundantly clear he harbors no animosity toward educators.
It’s their union representation he can’t stand.
Smith was just one of a parade of people to either skewer or support HB 2023, which would prevent public-sector unions like the Kansas National Education Association from taking voluntary deductions from employee paychecks to fund lobbying initiatives.
What many characterize as voluntary, Smith said, is often anything but.
“Teachers face intense pressure to join the union,” Smith said, describing his experience as a new teacher six years ago.
Smith said he asked many of his colleagues to speak in favor of the bill.
“When asked if they would come and relate their story about the union, the first question was, ‘Would any union representatives be present?’” he said. “When they found out they most likely would be, every one of them declined to testify because they did not want to be targeted by union members at work. That is a testament to the power of the union in a right-to-work state.”
Smith and other bill supporters decried union tactics they perceive as deceptive and bullying. Opponents of the measure fired back, calling such accusations baseless and distorted.
“No teacher is ever forced to join KNEA,” said Anna Moon Bradley, a teacher at Marais des Cygnes Valley High School in Melvern. “We are well-educated, professional adults. There is no arm twisting, there is no coercion.
“Denying teachers the right to the payroll deduction is simply not fair. It denies us the freedom to decide how our paychecks are spent, and denies us our freedom of speech,” Moon Bradley said. “This bill is mean-spirited, it’s unfair, and it runs counter to our values.”
Heated testimony on both sides filled the old Supreme Court chamber at the Capitol building for the better part of 90 minutes, as the hearing stretched committee time constraints.
Eric Stafford, senior director of Government Affairs for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, scoffed at the notion that public unions follow state regulations requiring political contributions to be kept separate from member dues.
“I have a hard time believing teachers give roughly $300,000 per year in political contributions” Stafford said. “The biggest problem is that the government is involved in the deduction of these dollars from the beginning. The government shouldn’t write the check.”
In addition to union dues and political contributions, opponents pointed to other deduction options for employees, including donations to the United Way or bank loan payments. Former District 53 Rep. Ann Mah didn’t mince words in testifying against the bill.
“If this had anything to do with protecting employees or protecting their paychecks, you’d also stop corporate paycheck deductions,” Mah said. “It’s blatant partisan legislation that causes poll numbers to rate legislators lower than cockroaches. This bill is the very definition of tyranny of government.”
But committee member Rep. Steve Brunk, R-District 85, said nobody is stopping union members from cutting a check to support political initiatives.
Mike Marvin, executive director for the Kansas Organization for State Employees, said such an extra step, no matter how small, could have a significant effect on the union’s bottom line.
“It’s harder to get someone to write a check every month,” Marvin said. “If they get $3 per month out of every check, they don’t notice that.”
That’s the problem, Smith said.
“It’s just an insidious way to get money from somebody.”