Meadville Tribune

May 13, 2013

Lawmakers target payments to unions in proposed legislation

By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG — -Bills that would weaken unions — including the powerful public sector unions that represent 300,000 state workers — have been introduced by a Crawford County state representative and a fellow Republican from Union County.

One measure recently introduced by a group of conservative representatives including Brad Roae and Fred Keller would bar arrangements that require union membership to get a job. Another bill would outlaw “fair share payments” that are collected by unions from employees who refuse to join the union.

Five thousand teachers pay “fair share fees” rather than union dues in Pennsylvania, a study by the Commonwealth Foundation determined. The teachers union is by far the largest public sector union — with three times the number of members as the next largest union.

Roae, whose Sixth District includes Meadville, Titusville and eastern Crawford County, said the bills would not prevent people from joining unions.

“Nobody should be prevented from joining a union if they want to join and nobody should be forced to join a union they do not want to join,” Roae said. “People should not be forced to pay partial union dues to a union they do not want to join.”

Keller said that he doesn’t view the bills as an attack on unions but he added that labor organizations should not benefit from government requirements that force people to give them money.

“If the product is valuable, they ought to be able to sell it” to prospective union members, Keller said.

Those on both sides of the issue said that the fair share payments date from a law passed in the late 1980s. Keller said that unions in Pennsylvania survived for decades without the fair share payments. Teachers union officials said that the use of fair share payments have been challenged and found to be fair and an accurate assessment of the union’s costs.

Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said the legislation would essentially create “free-riders” because the union is required to represent all teachers whether they are union members or not.

“I don’t see any reason to change the law,” said Brian Rieser, a math teacher in the Grove City Area School District and president of the teachers union there. Rieser said that as long as non-union members get the same benefits by contract as union members, they should be required to pay the fair share fees.

“It’s not fair that they would get the same benefits without having to pay. Nowhere else in society would we allow that,” Rieser said.

Negotiations for labor contracts involve the time and effort and a variety of union staff, including researchers, attorneys and negotiators, Rieser said.

“If a non-member employee is discharged unfairly, the union has to provide legal representation that runs into thousands of dollars to defend them,” said Anne Lohr, president of the union local in the North Star School District in Somerset County, where there are 96 union members and two fair-share employees.

Lohr, a math teacher at North Star High School, said that targeting fair share fees is a bid to “divide and conquer” government employees.

Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

Did you know?

The Pennsylvania State Education Association was ranked the fourth most powerful teachers union in the country.

-93.4 percent of teachers in Pennsylvania are members of the union.

-Pennsylvania is one of 34 states that require collective bargaining.

-Pennsylvania is one of 25 states that permit automatic collection of fees, regardless of whether the teacher belongs to the union or not.

-The Pennsylvania teachers union is also comparatively aggressive when it comes to politics — giving more in campaign donations than all but nine other teachers unions.

Source: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative educational policy think tank.