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Union dues deductions on chopping block in Oklahoma

By Trent England, The Liberty Foundation

Scott Walker did it. So did Sam Brownback. Now Oklahoma is considering getting state government out of the business of collecting union dues. Even in the nation’s reddest state (not one county voted for Obama in either of his presidential elections), the reform is drawing intense fire from the union political machine.

Oklahoma became a right-to-work state in 2001, protecting the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to participate in a union. Yet like many right-to-work states, Oklahoma has continued to provide special perks and powers to public-sector unions. One of these is collecting union dues.

In January, State Rep. Tom Newell (R-Seminole) introduced legislation to get the state out of union dues collection. The two-page bill addresses only state-level unions, including teachers but not local police and fire employees. It has no effect on the freedom of employees to join or not join unions. It just requires the unions to collect their own dues.

Union executives are nonplussed, and not just about the possibility of losing an administrative benefit. Government dues collection is an official seal of approval, putting union dues on the same level as taxes, insurance premiums, and retirement contributions. This is also part of the reason legislators are calling the practice into question.

The contrast is stark in Oklahoma. While the state’s politics are trending conservative, the state’s biggest union is the Oklahoma Education Association. The group is an affiliate of the National Education Association, meaning some of those dues collected by the state for the OEA get passed on to the NEA. The NEA, in turn, supports gun bans, government-controlled healthcare far beyond even Obamacare, and banning most homeschooling (which, in Oklahoma, would violate the State Constitution).

Why should state government use state taxpayer resources to do anything to support a group so out of line with what most Oklahomans believe? The question is a good one,but the principle is what matters. Government should stay as far out of politicking as possible. Just as the IRS should not slow-walk applications from groups opposed to the President, the state of Oklahoma should not give a boost to a group whose whole mission is political (the OEA website flatly states: “Education is politics.”).

The Oklahoma House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the union dues deduction measure this afternoon. Even with Republican supermajorities in both chambers, questions linger about how many legislators have the courage of a Scott Walker to stand up against intense union lobbying.

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