Right-to-work push fizzles in Pa.
When lawmakers in Indiana and Michigan passed laws banning compulsory union dues, hopes rose among some conservatives who've spent years trying to do the same thing here.
More than a year later, however, Pennsylvania is no closer to becoming the 25th state to enact a so-called right-to-work law.
“It's not an issue that's on our legislative agenda for the coming year,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County.
That frustrates some conservatives, who note that Republicans control the state House, Senate and governor's office.
“Just because the Republicans have the majority doesn't mean we have a majority that is willing to change the status quo,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, who has introduced several bills that would ban forced union membership. His most recent, House Bill 50, has remained stuck in the Labor and Industry Committee since he introduced it on April 30.
Battles over public sector unions' bargaining rights and legislation similar to Metcalfe's prompted protests in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, sit-ins at state capitals, and costly efforts to kick governors and legislators out of office before their terms expired.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Shaler Republican, decided to be less confrontational than his GOP colleagues in those states, said G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College.
“He has made no effort to change the fundamental relationship between labor and business,” Madonna said. “I think it was a conscious policy to minimize labor strife.”
That approach showed in the debate over the transportation funding bill that passed in November, Pileggi said. The bill eliminated prevailing wage requirements for projects costing less than $100,000, which lowered the wages the government must pay some workers.
Unions didn't like the provision, but their opposition never boiled over into major protests.
“The conclusion was, as you saw in the bill, a meaningful change in the prevailing wage law but not a radical one,” Pileggi said. “It was the general understanding that that was going to be the last major change in those laws ... for the balance of this session,” which runs through 2014.
The difficulty of overcoming union opposition to that relatively minor change in labor law sent a signal to supporters of Metcalfe's bill, said Alex Halper, government affairs director of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
“I think there's a perception that taking on right-to-work might be too much to handle,” Halper said.
Metcalfe's bill, which Halper's organization supports, would provoke a far larger fight than the prevailing wage change.
“It's a bad piece of legislation. It's bad for the economy. It's bad for workers. All it does is drive wages down and make unions less strong at the bargaining table,” said Jack Shea, president of Allegheny County Labor Council.
That affects all workers, Shea said. Higher union wages force nonunion businesses to pay workers more to keep them from organizing, he said. Union members earned $943 a week, on average, in 2012, compared to $742 for nonunion workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Since unions have declined — and they've been declining for 20, maybe 25 years — you'll see wages in the middle class go down,” Shea said. “All of us are affected by that.”
Less than 12 percent of U.S. workers belong to a union and 6.6 percent of private-sector workers are organized. Union membership in Pennsylvania fell from more than 20 percent in 1989 to 13.5 percent in 2012, according to the federal data.
But more than one-third of public-sector workers belong to a union, the data show.
“They still have considerable campaign resources, both in terms of dollars and volunteers. You can't say they're insignificant,” Madonna said.
Metcalfe said the decline in union membership doesn't change the need for his bill.
“We have forced unionism,” Metcalfe said. “It's a matter of restoring a very basic freedom, whether it's one worker who's forced to pay dues or a million.”
Riling people up over the issue presents a challenge for Metcalfe and his supporters. Compulsory union dues in some workplaces — most likely someone else's workplace, thanks to declining union membership — doesn't generate much passion, said Matthew Wagner, spokesman for Pennsylvanians for Right to Work, a Carlisle-based nonprofit that advocates for bills such as Metcalfe's.
“It's not a top-of-the-mind issue,” Wagner said. “People get excited about gun control. This is not something that people will get naturally excited about.”
Mike Wereschagin is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- As banking goes mobile, branch closures rip through local economy
- Cheap gas lets small business dream big
- 8th-grader gets venture capital for inexpensive Braille-printer
- Consol Energy posts $74M profit in fourth quarter
- Decoding mutual funds jargon
- Energy companies vie for experienced workers with skills in high demand
- Plus-size fashion bloggers recruited
- Natural gas industry buys share of Super Bowl spotlight
- Subaru BRZ still needs upgrades
- India nuke deals still thorny for U.S. despite ‘breakthrough’
- Super Bowl ads win by playing to viewers’ emotions, experts say