Blair County splits vote on union dues

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County commissioners cast a 2-to-1 split vote Tuesday in support of legislation to prohibit governments from withholding union dues from employee paychecks and forwarding payments.

Commissioners Chairman Terry Tomassetti introduced the resolution that has been drawing debate since late January when state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, and state Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, introduced a joint effort to end the practice.

Tomassetti, a Republican, said he agrees with the state lawmakers who object to the spending of taxpayer resources on efforts that should be handled by the employees’ unions.

While unions representing government employees can negotiate contracts calling for the government to withhold union dues and forward payments, those opposed to the practice say that such collections also help unions support union political activities and lobbying efforts.

“There’s a conflict there for us,” Tomassetti said about the county’s practice.

Democratic commissioner Ted Beam Jr. said he disagreed and called the proposed legislation a union-busting tactic.

“The county has been agreeing to collect union dues from its employees for a long time, and it’s not just the employees who benefit,” Beam said. “The county benefits too because our employees here do a tremendous job. … To make them mail in their union dues in today’s electronic age, I think it’s ridiculous.”

Republican commissioner Diane Meling voted in support of the proposed resolution because it alleviates the county of a task that it is not required to provide.

“I can support this as a way to make our county as efficient as possible,” Meling said.

The resolution introduced Tuesday stated that a Blair County payroll employee devotes a full day’s work every two weeks to calculate deductions for union dues.

Controller Richard J. Peo said the time involved is more like four or five hours in the processing of 520 payroll checks.

“It’s really not unduly burdensome for the county, like it might be for larger entites, like the state with many more employees,” Peo said. “For us, it would be one less task, but we wouldn’t be able to eliminate a job.”

Commissioners throughout the state, in recent weeks, have been considering similar resolutions concerning the practice that many of them have negotiated with employee unions.

Commissioners in Lancaster County, Schuylkill County and Berks County also cast 2-to-1 votes in support of the legislation. In those counties, as in Blair, the Republicans provided the vote in favor, and Democrats provided the vote against.