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Casey urges GOP leaders in Pa. Legislature to sidestep labor union limits bill

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 7:54 p.m.

Stepping into a heated political battle, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is urging Republican leaders of Pennsylvania's Legislature not to move forward on a bill that would make it harder for labor unions to collect dues and political action contributions through payroll deductions.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the Democratic senator expressed concern that the legislation could be quickly pushed through in an election year with the support of conservative groups and major business associations.

In a letter on Wednesday to state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, and state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, Casey said the bill could undermine unions' ability to bargain collectively.

“I think we have to be cognizant in states where this kind of threat was underestimated, it didn't turn out very well for workers,” Casey said, citing the cases of Michigan and Wisconsin, where GOP-controlled legislatures passed similar right-to-work laws. “The real goal here is political and ideological, to weaken workers' right to fight for better wages and benefits.

“It's an attempt to score a political point, and we need to be ready where we can push back in an instant,” he said.

The other U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, Republican Pat Toomey, has not spoken out on the issue.

The identical bills in the Pennsylvania House and Senate would prevent unions from negotiating the automatic deductions into labor contracts, forcing the unions to spend money and time collecting the tens of millions of dollars in contributions from hundreds of thousands of public-sector union members.

The issue has leaked into this year's hotly contested governor's race, with labor unions poised to marshal campaign cash to unseat Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who has pledged to sign the bill if passed.

The GOP leaders of the Pennsylvania Legislature have been publicly noncommittal, likely reflecting division among moderate Republicans. Pileggi has said he will bring it up for a vote if it can pass; Turzai has only indicated that the bill's aims are worthwhile and that supporters make a compelling case.

In recent weeks, the proposed legislation has drawn heavy protests in Harrisburg from labor unions and opposition from state Treasurer Rob McCord, a Democratic candidate for governor.

The issue occurs amid high-profile GOP victories in Northern industrial states, including Michigan and Wisconsin, part of a broader push of right-to-work laws to limit the power of labor unions, which tend to support Democrats overwhelmingly.

Democrats staunchly oppose the measure.

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