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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Public safety union PAC's and paycheck protection

This article by Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, Measure to limit union politicking may go to voters, appeared in the March 12, 2013 Arizona Daily Star.  The piece covers another paycheck protection measure that could appear on the 2014 ballot as voter-decided initiative.

The proposed initiative would require annual approval from union members to allow money taken from their paychecks to be used for any political purposes, including lobbying activities.  As this pertains to normal union dues, this appears to be an impossibly difficult condition for unions to meet.  Unions are a special interest group, and union members pay dues in large part so that their unions represent them before government to defend and enhance their pay, benefits, safety, and working conditions.  While the term "special interest group" may be freighted with negative connotations, the simple fact is that union representatives must actively participate in the political process.  They are in competition with other groups that are equally passionate about representing their constituencies as well.

It seems unclear how a union would distinguish political activities and non-political activities on a day-to-day basis.  If a union official speaks with a government official about a safety issue, is it lobbying or just a work-related conversation?  If a union website mentions requesting attendance at an upcoming city council meeting being political or just informational?  This type of hair-splitting serves no purpose and does not benefit union members who expect their union to interact with government.

The more appropriate area that should be dealt with regarding paycheck protection involves union political action committees (PAC).  These PAC's have the greatest potential to support positions that are contrary to members' beliefs and wishes.  Speaking to my own experience, I was approached by my soon-to-be local union representatives about joining their PAC when I was still in training.  Needless to say, a recruit in training, still facing a probationary period after graduation, and not knowing how he would be perceived by his future peers and supervisors if he refused to join the PAC was vulnerable and easily convinced (i.e. coerced) to sign up, as I did.  This dubious practice of passive intimidation continues to this day in my department.

Strong-arming recruits to join the PAC occurs for the same reasons detailed in the previous post, What is paycheck protection really about?  By getting them to sign up early for a regular payroll deduction, they will be less likely to think about the money being taken out of their checks every week. The small amount of money is never really noticed and stopping the payroll deduction never occurs to them, or if it does, it is quickly forgotten.  Some may even confuse the PAC contribution as part of their regular union dues.  Requiring an annual written consent to continue paying into the PAC would cause many union members to consider whether the PAC's activities conformed with their personal moral and political beliefs.  This may cause many members to forgo signing on for another year of funding.  This would be a much better avenue to pursue for those advocating for paycheck protection for union members.

If you contribute to a public safety union PAC and are interested in finding out where all the PAC money is being spent, go to the Arizona Secretary of State's Campaign Finance search site.  Users can enter search terms into the "Filer Name" box and click on the "Name" header to put the names in alphabetical order.  Typing in terms like "fire," "police," or "law enforcement" will bring up lists of PAC's related to public safety unions.  Click on the PAC you would like to research in order to pull up periodic and annual reports.  The annual reports dated "January 31st" will show PAC contributions and expenses for the prior year.

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