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F. Vincent Vernuccio: Pa. leads way to protect worker freedom

| Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, 7:03 p.m.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME restored First Amendment rights to millions of public employees across the country. The decision allows them to now choose whether they want to pay a union or not, without fear of losing their jobs.

Unfortunately for these employees, the fight isn’t over. From California to New York, union-backed politicians have been working to undermine the Janus decision through legislative action. Their tactics include confusing rules and narrow windows to make it harder for public employees to leave and stop paying unions, forcing new employees to sit through union sales pitches, and restricting what public employers can tell their employees. These unprecedented efforts seek to circumvent the highest court’s decision in an attempt to trap public employees into paying unions, ignoring the best interest of our civil servants.

It is important that public employees get accurate information to make an informed decision about what is best for them. National outreach efforts to workers like the My Pay My Say campaign are serving this needed purpose as states make it difficult for public employees to learn about and exercise their rights. However, legislation is also needed to protect First Amendment rights and ensure compliance with Janus.

Pennsylvania’s Senate Bill 1278, introduced by Sen. John Eichelberger Jr., R-Altoona, is likely the strongest post-Janus legislation in the country protecting public employees. Unlike most of the other proposed bills or recently enacted legislation regarding government unions, SB 1278 seeks to enhance protections for Pennsylvania civil servants and ensure the state complies with the Janus decision.

Recently the Senate Majority Policy Committee held a hearing on how the bill protects the Supreme Court’s intent in Janus.

SB1278 allows public employees to opt in to their union instead of going through a confusing and difficult opt-out process, but it goes further by including key provisions addressing worker’s choice and giving these employees voting rights to reelect their unions.

Despite Janus, Pennsylvania’s unions have a monopoly on the workers they represent, meaning they speak for all employees regardless of their membership status in the union. Workers who opt out of union membership are still forced to accept representation from a union whether they want it or not. They cannot negotiate hours, wages or benefits for themselves like non-unionized workers. Whether they like it or not, these workers are subject to whatever deal the union reaches on their behalf. If passed, SB 1278 will restore public employee voices and gives them the opportunity to opt out of union representation entirely and negotiate on their own behalf.

The proposed legislation would also bring more democracy to public employees. It addresses union recertification, or the ability to regularly hold a vote to determine which union would provide the best representation. Just like we voted on Nov. 6, public employees should have the ability to vote on who represents them. Eight in 10 voters agree with allowing public employees to re-elect their unions. However, only a very small number of union members have ever had the right to vote on who represents them. Giving public employees the right to re-elect their union would undoubtedly make unions more accountable and more responsive to their members’ concerns.

Legislators have the power to protect public worker rights by bringing accountability to the workplace, ensuring the democratic process carries over to the unionized public employees, and that all voices should be heard. With SB 1278, Pennsylvania can be a national leader in promoting worker freedom and provide the playbook for legislators across the country to support public civil servants in their states too.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and its My Pay My Say campaign.

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