New labor coalition forms to fight Brownback initiatives

Organized labor was roughed up during the last legislative session. Union leaders say the next session, which starts in January, will be even tougher.

“We are fighting back,” said Terry Forsyth, president of the newly formed Working Kansas Alliance. He was flanked on Friday by more than 50 union members during a news conference held in conjunction with the Kansas AFL-CIO biennial convention.

Forsyth said he will oppose efforts by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and many Republican legislators to start a 401(k)-style plan for public employees. He said that doesn’t fix the funding problem in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, which was caused by the state failing to contribute enough into the system.

He also predicted there will be a repeat of last session’s fight over a bill to limit the rights of union members to participate in political campaigns. That bill passed in the House with only Republican votes and prompted a rare demonstration in the House gallery that resulted in union members being kicked out.

Brownback has said he is working on improving the state economy and bringing more jobs to Kansas. He is set to unveil new tax and school finance plans.

His spokeswoman, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, said, “Clinging to outdated ways of doing things won’t work and taxpayers can’t afford it.” She added, “In the last decade, Kansas actually lost private sector jobs. We’re starting to turn that around, but there’s a lot of work to do. To grow Kansas, we need to control spending while reforming taxes and regulation.”

Forsyth also warned there will be an attempt in the 2012 legislative session, which starts in January, to do away with the state minimum wage law, which was increased in 2010 to match the federal minimum wage law and prior to that had been $2.65 an hour, the lowest state minimum wage in the country.

Forsyth said he hoped that labor’s success earlier this month in overturning a law in Ohio that limited the bargaining rights of public-sector unions and a movement to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signal that the public is getting unhappy with politicians with anti-labor agendas.

“As we saw in Ohio, initiatives that impede the ambitions of working people are rightfully viewed by voters as being too extreme. We believe Kansans will draw the same conclusions regarding the similar policies being pushed by the governor and members of the Kansas Legislature,” he said.

Earlier this week, Walker canceled plans to attend a fund-raiser in Wichita, which the Sedgwick County Republican Party said was also to feature Brownback. Labor groups claimed credit for the cancelation because they said they planned to bring thousands of workers to protest Walker’s appearance in Kansas.

Forsyth said the Working Kansas Alliance would also oppose plans to push more of public school and social service funding onto local governments.

“This fight is not about political parties and labels. This fight is about what is right and what is wrong,” he said.

By Scott Rothschild

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