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Missouri, Pennsylvania are the next fronts in war on public employee unions

Protestors at the Wisconsin state capitol in February 2011 (Photo: Scott Olson, Getty Images)
Protesters at the Wisconsin state Capitol in February 2011. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The war on public employee unions sparked mass protests in Ohio in 2011, and recalls in Wisconsin in 2011 and 2012. Now, the fight is headed to Missouri and Pennsylvania.

On Monday, a Missouri state House committee will hear testimony on a measure to prohibit unions from automatically deducting dues from a public employee’s paycheck. The measure, known by supporters as a “paycheck protection” act, would require union members to proactively authorize their unions to spend dues on political activity.

The Missouri legislature passed a similar bill last year, though it was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon (D). The bill exempts unions representing police and firefighters.

In Pennsylvania, union members gathered in Harrisburg last week to protest a similar measure making its way through the Republican-dominated legislature. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) has said he supports the proposal.

Public employee unions are some of the biggest-spending outside groups on behalf of Democratic candidates. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union and several others spent millions on television advertising and get-out-the-vote drives in 2012 to reelect President Obama.

Paycheck protection bills are some of the biggest threats to unions’ political power, especially given the financial bite they take out of bottom lines. In 2011, the four biggest unions in Wisconsin pulled in almost $15 million in member dues; by 2012, union revenue dropped to $8.3 million, according to the Madison Capital Times. The state AFSCME council’s revenue dropped from $5 million in 2010 to just $1.7 million in 2012.

After the Republican wave of 2010, conservatives pitched new paycheck protection proposals in several states where unions maintain a strong political presence. Unions fought tooth and nail against the proposals, going so far as to occupy the state capitols in both Wisconsin and Ohio and recalling several state senators. A group of unions gathered more than a million signatures in forcing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker into a recall election, though he ultimately survived.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.

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