Pennsylvania lawmakers had several opportunities to reduce the coercive power of labor unions this fiscal year, but failed to pass the necessary legislation.
Pennsylvania is not a Right to Work state, which means employees in unionized workplaces can be forced to pay a union “fair share” fees — in an amount determined by the union — as a condition of employment.
Forced unionism gives Pennsylvania labor bosses a financial and political advantage. In 2012, for example, Pennsylvania’s largest public-sector unions dumped nearly $5 million of its members’ dues into politics.
Campaign expenditures and extensive lobbying have helped union bosses retain special privileges and exemptions built into Pennsylvania law.
For the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which ended last week, unions successfully fought five bills that would have cut back significantly on their influence over state politics.
Wendell W. Young IV, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1776, bragged that fighting legislation such as the following five bills makes Pennsylvania unions stronger.
“On every level, there is more coordination and collaboration,” he told the Central Penn Business Journal. “I think we’re stronger, more influential. What didn’t happen here is what happened in Wisconsin and other states.”
“We saw what was happening, we reacted,” Young said.
1. Paycheck Protection
Paycheck protection legislation would force public employee unions to collect their own political money.
The state and the school districts currently deduct union political money from their employees’ paychecks and send that directly to the unions. Government unions are the only organizations with this special privilege.
Unions across the state have been fighting this legislation since its introduction. Unions bused in members for a rally in Harrisburg, sent emails and called legislators, and threw their financial support behind opposing what they dubbed “paycheck deception.”
Taking it a step further, union members harassed and bullied those supporting the opposite point of view.
Paycheck protection legislation was voted out of House and Senate committees and brought to the floor, but did not reach a vote before the summer recess.
2. Union Violence Bill
House Bill 1154 would close a loophole in state criminal law that allows parties involved in a labor dispute to stalk, harass, and threaten the other party with weapons of mass destruction without fear of injunction.
The House approved the bill earlier this year and sent it to the Senate, where it was amended, passed unanimously, and sent back to the House. Republican House members are wary of the amendment, however, and believe it doesn’t completely close the loophole.
State Rep. Ron Miller told Media Trackers he was “hopeful” a compromise would be reached before the summer recess, but the bill still sits in the Rules Committee.
Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder testified against the bill, stating that current law works fine. And while Snyder claims anyone who commits a violent crime during a labor dispute gets arrested, those offenders often escape penalty; Ironworkers Local 401 Business Agent Edward Sweeney, for example, was charged with harassment and simple assault but was let off the hook because of his union position.
3. Liquor Privatization
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has been pushing for the state-run liquor industry to be placed under private control ever since taking office in 2010.
UFCW Local 1776 has been fighting this proposal by pouring money into advertising campaigns and lobbying expenses. In 2013 alone, UFCW 1776 spent nearly $1 million on a television and radio advertising campaign — not including the $280,000 UFCW spent on consulting and lobbying expenses for “Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) activities.”
This year, the UFCW ran another ad campaign against liquor privation that cost around $300,000.
Despite being one of Corbett’s top priorities, only the House has passed any type of liquor privatization plan.
4. Pension Reform
Gov. Corbett withheld his signature from the 2014-2015 budget last week and encouraged legislators to pass pension reform.
Corbett’s plan of choice was a hybrid pension plan that allowed current employees to keep their costly defined benefit plans and enrolled new employees in a 401(k)-style plan.
Government unions across the state have been fighting any and all attempts at pension reform. The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) went so far as to deny there was even a need for pension reform, even though the two state systems have a combined $50 billion in unfunded liabilities.
Instead of voting on the pension plan last week, however, State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) voted to recommit the bill to the Human Services committee, which he chairs.
DiGirolamo is a major ally to organized labor and even runs a political action committee (PAC) — the Good Jobs PA PAC — which funnels money from labor unions to left-leaning Republicans. Several of the Republicans who helped DiGirolamo recommit the bill have received campaign contributions from Good Jobs PA PAC this year.
Though the House voted to bring that bill back out of committee, Rep. DiGirolamo was successful in postponing the pension reform debate until after the summer recess.
5. Performance-Based Layoffs
A bill introduced by State Rep. Tim Krieger (R-Westmoreland) would have ended the practice of laying off the newest teachers in the event of a furlough. That practice is called “Last In First Out” (LIFO), and is normal protocol for Pennsylvania school districts.
LIFO keeps the most experienced teachers in the classroom, but not necessarily the most effective or the highest-performing. Krieger’s bill would work to keep the best-performing teachers in the classroom, regardless of their seniority.
This type of legislation is strongly opposed by PSEA and the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania (AFT-PA). PSEA, the largest public-sector union in Pennsylvania, spent $3.7 million on political activities and lobbying in 2013 alone.
The House Education Committee amended and approved the performance-based layoff legislation, but it never made it out of the House Rules Committee.