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Right-to-work could bring new jobs to Pennsylvania

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Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Lacking the best ammunition, Pennsylvania is no sharpshooter at bagging new jobs, Matthew Wagner will tell you.

“We offer tax breaks,” he said. “Then we don't see the tax benefits for years, if ever.”

There's such an obviously better way, he says: Make Pennsylvania a “right-to-work” state. Like 24 others by now, as one by one, they have seen the light. Why else have foreign auto plants flocked to the Sun Belt, for example?

And what else but a right-to-work jurisdiction do most company decision-makers — 70 percent — say is the kind of place they'd prefer to locate?

To put it bluntly, it translates to weaker unions.

Workers can't be forced to join a union as a job condition or to pay union dues, a growing political sticking point. Millions in dues collections get bundled to elect candidates favored by union leadership but not necessarily by Joe Lunchbox. And in Pennsylvania, compulsory dues collections approach a half-billion dollars a year.

All walks of life would prosper more if we went right-to-work, says Wagner.

As communication director — aw, heck, lobby­ist — for Carlisle-based Pennsylvanians for Right to Work Inc., he points out to lawmakers in Harrisburg that the state of Indiana, for example, attracted 91 businesses and 5,000 jobs in the first six months after it went right-to-work a few years back. Oklahoma reaped 7,800 new jobs; average household income rose 50 percent in a decade.

“Right-to-work states show four times the job creation of compulsory union states,” Wagner contended in an interview after addressing a small Tea Party crowd in Greensburg. “Their average unemployment is lower by a full percentage point.”

Such numbers are disputed, of course, by organized labor's own statisticians.

Wagner claimed living costs average 30 percent lower in right-to-work states even as job openings increase. Indiana's new jobs, after the change in law, allegedly paid $3 an hour more than the old. Inevitable result: long-term population shifts. And political shifts. Some 400,000 more Americans have moved to right-to-work states yearly vs. the other way around. “No wonder we're losing our children,” said Wagner, touching a sensitive spot in a locale of aging population.

The state with the lowest unemployment rate now, under 4 percent, is North Dakota, It has an oil boom, yes, but it's a right-to-work state. So is Texas, far outshining onetime champion, heavily union-carded California, in job creation.

Newest in the right-to-work ranks is Michigan, a shocker. Home of the United Auto Workers and bankrupt Detroit, Michigan under Republican leadership evidently made up its mind to quit letting Big Labor do the political driving.

Pennsylvania and Ohio seem likeliest to become the 25th and 26th right-to-work states, in Wagner's view.

Both houses of the legislature in Harrisburg are Republican-controlled. Both have bills in committee (S. 1073 and H. 50). Gov. Tom Corbett has said he'd sign a right-to-work bill if it reaches his desk. It could be a great campaign issue in 2014.

Legislators tell Wagner they hear surprisingly little from constituents on the matter. It's not seen as “sexy.” One said, “We need people to push us for us to push this.”

Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email

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