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Pennsylvania Lawmakers Propose “Right-to-Work” Legislation

January 24, 2013

By Allison R. Brown and Rebecca Lacher

Republican lawmakers introduced a legislative package on January 22, 2013, which would make Pennsylvania the 25th right-to-work state.  Right-to-work legislation is aimed at eliminating “compulsory unionism” and the payment of union fees by non-union members in both the public and private sectors.  Competition among the states for revenues from businesses has spurred a renewed interest by state legislatures in right-to-work laws during the prolonged economic downturn.

Proponents of the right-to-work legislation argue that it will make the Commonwealth more attractive to business, create jobs, and give employees “the basic freedom of choice.” Supporters also cite studies suggesting that job growth and private-sector compensation in right-to-work states have increased more rapidly than in other states.

Opponents, such as the AFL-CIO, have urged that right-to-work laws undermine both unions and workers and “allow workers to pay nothing and still get all the benefits of union membership.” President Obama recently spoke against right-to-work laws, calling them “the right to work for less money.”

The Bills

The proposed Pennsylvania legislation, termed the “Pennsylvania Open Workforce Initiative,” consists of six bills aimed at giving workers the power to determine whether or not to join and pay dues to unions:

  • HB 50 (D. Metcalfe, R.): would prohibit conditioning employment on union membership or paying union dues
  • HB 51 (K. Rapp, R.): would prohibit unions from collecting compulsory union dues from non-union public school employees
  • HB 52 (F. Keller, R): would prohibit unions from collecting compulsory union dues from non-union state employees
  • HB 53 (J. Cox, R): would prohibit labor organizations from collecting compulsory union dues from non-union local government employees
  • HB 54 (J. Knowles, R): would prohibit conditioning private-sector employment on membership or non-membership in labor organization and bars compulsory dues for non-union members
  • HB 250: (S. Bloom, R.): would permit public employees to opt out of union membership at any time during their contract, rather than current law allowing employees to terminate their union membership only in the 15 days prior to the expiration of the contract

What are the Prospects?

According to the DOL Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report on union membership, only 2 of the 24 states with right-to-work laws have union employees above the 2012 national average of 11.3 percent of the combined public and private workforce: Nevada (14.7 percent) and Michigan (16.6 percent). This suggests, of course, that unions have successfully resisted right-to-work legislation in states where their members comprise a greater percentage of the voters who can organize in greater numbers to fight such legislation.

Supporters of the Pennsylvania Open Workforce Initiative face significant hurdles.  There will likely be contentious opposition from labor organizations (13.5 percent of the employees in the state are union members) and many of the 113 Democratic representatives in the state General Assembly. Previously introduced right-to-work legislation failed to move beyond the 2011-2012 House Labor and Industry Committee.   Republican Governor Tom Corbett stated in December that there was “not much of a movement” for right-to-work legislation in Pennsylvania and that he would not focus on it “until I see a strong will to get legislation passed.”

Supporters contend, however, that the recent success of right-to-work legislation in the labor union hotbed of Michigan suggests that there is the potential for similar success in Pennsylvania.  But unlike Michigan, which shares its border with a right-to-work state (Indiana) and only two other states, none of Pennsylvania’s six neighboring states  has a right-to-work law on the books and the majority of its neighbors exceed the national average of union employees (e.g., New York 23.2 percent; New Jersey 16.1 percent; Ohio 12.6 percent; West Virginia 12.1 percent). If past is prologue, these facts do not bode well for the Pennsylvania Open Workforce Initiative.

For more information regarding this or other labor and employment issues, please contact Allison R. Brown or Rebecca Lacher, members of Schnader’s Labor and Employment Practices Group. 

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