Statehouse Live: Union members kicked out of Kansas House gallery during vote

After being told to leave the House gallery, union members on Thursday watch the House vote on House Bill 2130 on television outside the House chamber. The measure passed 75-46 despite protests from organized labor.

? More than 50 union members shouting “vote no” were kicked out of the House gallery on Thursday as Republicans pushed through a bill that workers said would limit their ability to participate in political campaigns.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, called the demonstration the most disrespectful display he had seen in his 27 years in the Legislature. “Please exit the gallery,” he said. A worker shouted that approval of the legislation was disrespectful as the group was escorted out by state troopers.

House Bill 2130 would ban unions from making paycheck deductions for political activities and prohibit public employee unions from endorsing candidates. It was approved 75-46, with only Republican support, and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Earlier in the morning, union members lined up outside the House chamber and cheered House members who voted against the bill in a first-round vote on Wednesday, and chanted “vote no” when those who had supported the measure walked by.

At one point during a “vote no” chant, a Capitol police officer told the group to “knock it off,” which produced a brief confrontation. Bruce Tunnell, executive vice president of the Kansas AFL-CIO, told the officer, “We will not shut up. We will not keep it down.”

House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence told union members, “Don’t let them kick you out of here,” as he entered the House chamber.

Labor representatives said House Bill 2130 was an attack on the ability of workers to organize and participate as a group in the political process. They said it was the latest example of how Republicans were trying to neutralize unions at the legislative level in various states, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.

Supporters of the bill said it was aimed at helping union workers who disagreed with their union’s political activities.

State Rep. Anthony Brown, a former union carpenter and chairman of the committee that produced the bill, said it would protect workers who pay their union dues but want to opt out of the political decisions made by the unions.

“I had no choice. I had no opt out,” Brown, R-Eudora, said.

Speaker O’Neal said, “For too long, unions have placed a stranglehold on their members’ political contributions.”

But union supporters said union members can always opt out of belonging to the union or having their dues used for political activities.

The bill is being pushed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

Davis called the bill “a naked assault on the ability of teachers, prison guards, carpenters, construction workers and other working Kansans to participate in the political process.”

Matthew Hall of Lawrence, an organizer with the Kansas Organization of State Employees, described the bill as “political maneuvering by big business and some Republicans who are trying to get rid of the opposition.”

Robert Bausch, an electrician from Topeka, said in Kansas all union activity is voluntary. A 17-year union member, he said, “No one has ever told me how to vote.”

Speaker O’Neal’s chief of staff, Rachelle Colombo, said security was called in to monitor the protesters after several female legislators said they were called obscene names. Union organizers denied Colombo’s allegation that union members had made any improper remarks.