Meadville Tribune

October 6, 2013

State's stalled Right to Work bills could move this fall

By John Finnerty
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — A package of Right to Work bills have been stalled in committee since the spring, but proponents believe at least of one the bills could move in the fall session

State Rep. Fred Keller, R-Union County, who authored one of the right-to-work bills, said he believes the Legislature may take a look at a bill targeting the automatic deduction of union dues from state workers’ paychecks.

Critics say that Pennsylvania gives public-sector unions privileges not available to other private groups. That is because member dues and political action committee contributions are automatically deducted from state workers’ and public teachers’ paychecks. The service essentially means that public resources are being used to collect dues for the unions.

In addition, all state workers and public teachers must join the union or pay “fair-share” fees. The fair-share fee entitles the worker to the rights and protections won by the union in negotiations with the state or school district.

Twenty-four states have passed so-called right-to-work laws which allow workers to refuse to join a union.

Ellwood City School District teacher John Cress said he wanted to disassociate with the National Education Association because of the national organization’s ties to Planned Parenthood.

The Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based conservative think tank, compiled a sample of how public sector union dollars get funneled into political spending.

This summer, the Pennsylvania State Education Association newsletter included a four-page advertising spread encouraging teachers to donate to the union’s political action committee. The PAC’s aim: To help make Gov. Tom Corbett a “one-hit wonder.” The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents state store employees, used dues dollars to make an advertisement critical of liquor privatization.

In 2012, Pennsylvania’s main public sector unions spent more than $4.9 million from union dues on political activities and lobbying, a 64 percent increase from 2006, the Commonwealth Foundation found.

The Commonwealth Foundation noted that the PSEA spent more than $100,000 in the form of donations to advocacy groups, including $54,000 that was given to the Keystone Research Center, a liberal-leaning research organization, based in Harrisburg.

Ellwood City teacher Robert Brough said he didn’t realize he could ask to become a fair share employee. But, when the Commonwealth Foundation’s Free to Teach group began to contact teachers, he received an email from the union warning all teachers that there would be an anti-union solicitation coming. All educators were encouraged to delete the email without reading it.

Brough read the email. He was happy to find that becoming a “fair-share” teacher provided him with a way to continue to support the local union without having to contribute money to the national union.

But other critics argue that state employees ought to be able to opt completely out of unions.

“Employees should be allowed to belong if they want to, but they shouldn’t be forced to join,” Keller said. “To me, this is about paycheck protection.”

Finnerty writes for CNHI’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune, from Harrisburg.