CNHI Harrisburg Bureau
With the recent success of Right to Work legislation in the labor union hotbed of Michigan, a group of Republican lawmakers, flanked by supporters from the business community, said Tuesday that the time is right to enact Right to Work legislation in Pennsylvania.
More than 30 people attended a Capitol event in which lawmakers announced the reintroduction of several pieces of legislation that would attack compulsory union membership in the public and private sectors.
Previous bids to pass Right to Work legislation have failed to gain any traction in Pennsylvania. But success in Michigan and Indiana suggests not only that there is the potential for political success, but that failing to act will put Pennsylvania at a competitive disadvantage when businesses consider whether to expand or locate in Pennsylvania or set up shop elsewhere, advocates said.
No Northeastern state has passed Right to Work legislation.
“Whether the economic objective is reining in astronomical state employee pension costs, liquor privatization or expanding school choice, evidence across the nation proves that the most critical and essential step for economic growth is to break the government-sanctioned grip of compulsory unionism,” said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican from Butler, while unveiling what was described as the Open Workforce Initiative.
State Rep. Fred Keller, a Republican from Snyder County, said that he was approached by a constituent who complained about being forced to pay $600 a year in union dues.
“That money might put food on the table,” Keller said. “Or in 10 to 12 years, that money would pay for a semester in college.”
Rep. Kathy Rapp, a Republican from Warren County, said the bills are intended to combat the “anti-American” requirements of “forced unionism.”
Advocates said that states with Right to Work laws have performed better during the recession than other states. During the past decade, private-sector employee compensation grew 12 percent in Right to Work states, compared with just 3 percent in other states.
Any attempt to pass the Right to Work bills would be subjected to contentious opposition from labor organizations.
“If it were going to come up for a vote either in a committee or on the floor, all of the major unions would gear up for a major political fight,” said Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. “We are not seeing any indication that that will happen.”
The teachers union spokesman noted that Right to Work legislation has not been identified by Gov. Tom Corbett as one of his priorities.
The lack of support for pushing for a Right to Work fight was acknowledged by Rapp, who said, “I am disappointed that Michigan, which is dominated by the UAW, became the 24th Right to Work state, while Pennsylvania has yet to act.”
Keever said the issue is important for all working and middle class families because states with Right to Work laws also tend to have higher rates of workplace accidents; workers earn, on average, $1,500 less a year; and employers are less likely to offer benefits, such as employer-sponsored retirement plans.
“It’s more than union members who have something to worry about,” he said.
In addition, the AFL-CIO points to data that suggest that in states with Right to Work laws, 26.7 percent of jobs are in low-wage occupations, compared with 19.5 percent of jobs in other states.
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