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Franklin Regional's union dues aren't only teacher paycheck deductions

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 9:21 a.m.

Franklin Regional employees have money deducted from their paychecks for at least eight different purposes, but only one is targetted by proposed state legislation that the school board is considering endorsing.

On Monday, the board will consider a resolution to support legislation that would bar school districts from deducting union dues from employee paychecks. The measure is part of House Bill 1507, which aims to stop public entities from deducting political contributions from paychecks.

Teachers' union dues fall under that umbrella because a portion – approximately 10 percent of what is collected statewide – is used for political lobbying.

Assistant Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac said the district also deducts health care premiums and mandatory contributions to the Public School Employees Retirement System from all employee paychecks. Employees can choose to have contributions automatically deducted for other purposes, including supplemental benefits such as AFLAC, 403(b) retirement contributions and flexible spending plans for health care costs.

Some employees also have donations for the district's Fund-A-Meal program and the United Way deducted from their checks.

State Rep. Eli Evankovich, a co-sponsor of the bill, said union dues are very different from deductions such as health care premiums.

“Highmark is not doing direct candidate advocacy with that money,” Evankovich said. “Highmark has paid lobbyists, but they are not funding direct candidate advocacy out of that money. If they were, I'd have a different perspective.”

Records show the United Way of America — which the United Way of Westmoreland County pays dues to — spent about $212,000 on lobbying in 2013, focusing on education; federal budget and appropriations; health issues; Medicare and Medicaid; and labor, antitrust and workplace issues.

FR union president Domenic Colangelo said the same logic justifying the targetting of union dues can be applied to United Way deductions.

“We would point out that any time we contribute to the United Way, that money can be given to Catholic Charities or other organizations,” Colangelo said. “But we don't say that just because they're facilitating that donation that the public school supports that. It seems that unions are somehow seen in a different light.”

Bobbi Watt-Geer, president and CEO of United Way of Westmoreland County, said her organization participates in no candidate support but will speak with local legislators casually about issues.

The time taken to process deductions is inconsequential, officials said.

Director of Finance Jon Perry estimated that it takes between eight and 10 hours each year to process dues deductions.

“It might be a few keystrokes to apply to every member,” Perry said.

The board will vote on the measure during a meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Monday in the administration building.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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