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Could Right-to-Work Battle Come to Pa.?

Unions have broad appeal in PA, staunching right-to-work efforts. Gov. Tom Corbett said the Pennsylvania legislature lacks the will to pass right-to-work laws.

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — On the surface, Pennsylvania looks like it could be the next front in the ongoing battle between Republicans and big labor that flared up in Michigan this week as lawmakers there approved so-called “right-to-work” legislation.

The Keystone State, like Michigan – and Indiana and Ohio, where similar battles have gone down — has a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled Legislature.  Like those other states, it has a long history of powerful labor unions.

But all is quiet on the labor front in Pennsylvania, at least for right now.  And Gov. Tom Corbett indicated this week that he does not plan on changing that.

During an appearance on the Dom Giordano radio show on WPHT-AM in Philadelphia on Monday, Corbett said Pennsylvania lacks “the will” to pass right-to-work legislation and indicated it was not a top priority for him as the Legislature gears up for a new session in January.

Kevin Harley, the governor’s spokesman, told PA Independent that Corbett supports right-to-work in theory and would sign the bill into law if it made it to his desk.

However, Harley said, the governor is taking a practical approach because the right-to-work legislation is unlikely to make it through the Legislature.

“What makes it different is that the Michigan Legislature actually passed it,” Harley said. “(Corbett) doesn’t think it would pass here.”

He may have a point.  Right-to-work legislation has been introduced in both chambers of the General Assembly for the past several years, but went nowhere.

During the recently completed 2011-12 session, for example, fewer than 50 of the 253 members of the General Assembly signed on to various right-to-work bills introduced in the state House and state Senate.

In short, right-to-work laws free workers from the requirement to join unions in certain professions.  They also prevent unions from requiring members to pay dues to the union.  Since those dues form the backbone of unions’ financing for legal and political activities, the result is a weakened labor movement in state with right-to-work laws on the books.

In Pennsylvania, about 15 percent of all workers are unionized, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, but the unions are widely regarded as the most powerful political force in state politics.

Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said Friday the union would fight right-to-work legislation “with every breath we have,” if it ever was brought up for a vote.

Bloomingdale went on to explain the key to union power in Pennsylvania.  Rather than aligning itself with one political party, he said, the unions in the Keystone State have a broader reach.

“We’ve never considered ourselves a party,” he said. “We consider ourselves a union, and we work with people on both sides of the aisle.”

Working with people on both sides of the aisle means helping out when it comes time to campaign.

According to research from the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that works to elect conservative Republicans at the state level, unions in Pennsylvania made more than $1.5 million in political contributions during 2012.

As expected, most of the union money flows to Democrats, but Republicans – particularly the ones in key leadership positions – got more than $80,000 from Pennsylvania unions during the past year.

Leo Knepper, executive director of CAP, said all that money buys considerable influence — and politicians are unlikely to change until that does.

“For a long time, the first thought the members of the General Assembly had about legislation was ‘what will the unions do if I vote for this?’” Knepper said. “Until they reflexively start to ask ‘what will taxpayers and job creators do if I vote against this?’ things won’t change.”

Perhaps worth noting, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was lukewarm on right-to-work for most of his first two years in office.

In an interview this week with MSNBC, Snyder said he was motivated to pursue right-to-work after the unions in Michigan tried to get collective-bargaining rights enshrined in the state constitution via a ballot initiative in November.

That measure failed, but the labor unrest stirred up by the proposal was enough to spur Snyder to action.

Back in Pennsylvania, some on the right say Corbett is looking at the picture the wrong way.

Instead of saying he would sign a bill when it comes to his desk, they believe Corbett should be actively pushing for his agenda – an agenda that should include right-to-work legislation.

“If he thinks it’s a good idea, he should be out there supporting it. When you’re the governor, you’re the boss,” said Bruce Castor, a Montgomery County Commissioner who is considering a primary challenge to Corbett in 2014.

Contact ERic Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.

Frank Marsh December 17, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Right to Work laws are an attack on the middle class. The true name should read Right to Work for less. Wages where the so called Right to Work laws are enacted are 10-15% lower than other states. Right to Wor is a race to the bottom for the middle class.
Bob December 17, 2012 at 01:16 PM
I agree that if corbett is passionate about this, he should direct his peers to do something about itrather than just sit back. But perhaps its for the better if this would significantly hurt the unions. But why is it a problem to give people choices to pay into a union? Why do you need to force people into it? Shouldnt they have a choice? I understand that if not everyone joins that particular union at that company, the union is less strong...but if it was best for the individual, wouldnt they decide to join anyways? At least they can decide themselves. What are the pros and cons for not allowing this?
European American. December 17, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Never happen. Philly is and has been controlled by the democrats. The unions are what keep the dems in control. It is beyond corrupt. Some union workers do all they can to destroy non union companies. I've personally seen sabotage and destruction set upon non union companies,workers and the jobs sites that are non union. Unions were great when they were first enacted and they are still good in theory just not reality. Union electricians now make $44 an hour. You cannot justify that to me for pulling wires and changing light bulbs. The unions are destroying our economy. Look at the auto workers
James Kephart Jr. December 18, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Frank, I understand your point. However, I have not been able to find a way around the inherent issue I have with the following: If I want a job working for the State of PA or for Montgomery or Bucks county, how can you justify forcing me to pay someone else to represent me if I do not want that representation? I have no problem with a private company telling me that they have decided to do business that way - it is their company. I am not interested in hearing about the benefits the Union will get for me. I am only interested in how the State can force me to pay someone in order to get a job. There is no constitutional argument justifying it.
Dave December 21, 2012 at 03:40 AM
James, I look at the argument the same way as any other prerequisite for a job- A mechanic is forced to have tools, a delivery driver is forced to have a truck, etc. Forcing the union to represent non-members who have not contributed as is the case in RTW states... How can you legally compel someone to provide a service with no compensation?

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