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The Associated Press March 11, 2011, 10:36AM ET

Florida panel OKs bill on union dues and gov't pay

A bill that prohibits the automatic payroll deduction of union dues from government workers' pay cleared a Florida House committee Thursday and critics called the measure an attempt at union-busting.

The State Affairs Committee voted along party lines on Thursday, recommending House Bill 1021 by a tally of 12-6. The bill also requires unions to get written permission from members before their dues could be used for political contributions.

Several representatives of police, firefighter and public-employee unions opposed the measure, including a fiery condemnation from Jeff McAdams, president of Gainesville's Fraternal Order of Police.

McAdams said he'd never heard complaints about union dues being used for political purposes.

"That is absolutely a smoke screen for the true purpose here, and that is to eliminate unions, and I won't stand for it," he told the committee.

After they had all addressed the committee, the union representatives got up and left the room.

"... It was clear that the majority had already made up their minds on the issue," the Florida AFL-CIO explained in a press release.

State Rep. Chris Dorworth, who is sponsoring the bill, said he just wants to get government out of the business of collecting union dues.

He said some union members even told him they liked the bill, though he didn't name them. Florida's business lobby, including the Chamber of Commerce, supports the bill.

"It's absolutely not a union-busting bill," Dorworth, a Lake Mary Republican, said after the hearing.

"All it says is, if you want to collect dues, do it directly," he added. "And if you want to spend dues on something, make sure your members know what that is."

But state Rep. Alan Williams, a Democrat from Tallahassee, asked Dorworth if the bill would adversely affect unions.

"I don't know," Dorworth said. "It'll cause them to change the way they collect dues. I suspect that ... some groups will rise to that task, and others may not be as successful."

State Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, had tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to prohibit all paycheck deductions.

"Why just unions?" he asked. "Why not the United Way. Let's be honest: it's about who (unions) politically support."

Labor unions have historically -- though not exclusively -- supported Democratic candidates for office. Gary Rainey, president of the Florida Professional Firefighters, mentioned that his union had given money to Dorworth in the past.

The House bill next will be considered by the Appropriations Committee. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

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