AP Wire

Anti-union bill gains momentum

by Brian Slodysko, Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Decades have passed since businesses and labor unions bitterly clashed in Louisiana, a tumultuous era that saw the state Senate bombed and, in 1976, the enactment of the state's right-to-work law.

Now, after years of dormancy, the two adversaries are gearing up for what could be the first major confrontation in a generation.

A coalition of state and national business groups hopes to deliver a death blow to organized labor in Louisiana, pushing an anti-union bill that would ban automatically deducting membership dues from the paychecks of government workers. Unionized firefighters, police officers and teachers would be among those affected.

Union leaders are pushing back, and they're vowing to target in fall elections those lawmakers who vote for the bill by Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette. The measure awaits a full House debate scheduled for Tuesday.

Supporters publicly market the effort as "paycheck protection" and insist that they aren't anti-union, just philosophically against government payroll offices making deductions that could be funneled to political causes.

Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette

But in a video leaked last week, Lane Grigsby, who heads up a policy committee for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, made his intent clear during closed-door meetings: "If you control the money flow, you control the success."

"When you cut off the unions' funding, they lose their stroke," Grigsby told a boardroom of supporters in the video. "This is a fatal spear to the heart of the giant."

Through a spokeswoman, Grigsby declined to comment. LABI President Stephen Waguespack didn't respond to a request for comment, though the organization has made the bill's passage a top priority for the legislative session.

In the past, dues deduction prohibitions have died in committee. This year, however, the effort has gained momentum. That's set off a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity by both sides in advance of Tuesday's planned House debate.

Lawmakers were targeted by a mailer campaign in favor of the measure that was financed by Americans for Prosperity, the main political advocacy group for Charles and David Koch, billionaire brothers who spend millions on conservative causes.

Meanwhile, unions have instructed members to contact their local lawmakers and urge a "no" vote. Thousands of opposition letters have been sent to lawmakers, said Darrell Basco, president of the Louisiana Fraternal Order of Police.

"I've got a lot of emails against it," said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington.

Included among those opposed: his wife. "It's a very tough one," Schroder said.

Bishop acknowledged his bill could be a difficult vote in an election year.

"I'm getting a lot of pressure from a lot of different angles right now," he said.

The debate has followed the contours of a broader national debate between business and labor. But Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, questioned the bill's utility in a state where right-to-work laws allow workers to opt out of union membership.

"This fight is relevant to Louisiana why?" said Monaghan. "We've got to fight back the barbarians at the gate."