“Right-To-Work” Train Rolls On: Next Stop, Pennsylvania?

The earthquake that was Michigan’s right-to-work law has produced a number of interesting aftershocks, not least of which is the right-to-work rumbling in Pennsylvania where lawmakers (guided by Rep. Daryl Metcalf) have introduced legislation called “Pennsylvania Open Workforce Initiative,” aimed at ending compulsory unionism.

The initiative actually consists of a number of bills, including:

  • House Bill 50, The Freedom of Employment Act, under which “employment in Pennsylvania will no longer be conditional upon membership or non-union membership, nor upon payment or non-payment of money to a labor organization”;
  • House Bill 51, which “would remove the language [of current law] that gives a public school entity the ability to collect compulsory union dues from non-members and return the Right to Work protections that were present in the original bargaining law of 1970″;
  • House Bill 52, which would “amend the administrative code of 1929 to eliminate the authority for imposing the ‘fair share fee’ for commonwealth employees and relieve certain employee organizations of specific duties and obligations”; and
  • House Bill 53, which would “would return the individual freedom of choice to all local government employees to decide for themselves which private organizations they wish to support by removing the compulsory language and preventing the collection of compulsory union dues.”

Metcalfe, a long-time and passionate advocate of right-to-work, acknowledges the economic benefits of such legislation. But more than that, he sees the issue as one of basic freedom:

The framers of our Constitution did not intend for our government to become an enforcer for unions. Working men and women should have the freedom to join a union if they choose and to leave that union when it is in their best interest to do so.

So will the Keystone State become the nation’s 25th right-to-work state? Maybe: Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has sent, shall we say, mixed signals about what are doubtless mixed feelings he has about such a step. As Stephen Moore notes in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Corbett is said to be lukewarm to the idea, which he believes is too politically divisive. But he has hinted that if the bill were to come to his desk, he would sign it. That has emboldened Republicans to move ahead. They argue, as the GOP did in Michigan, that their political majorities should be used to do big and consequential things to improve the state. Unless Mr. Corbett changes his mind, the law won’t go far.

True enough, but, as Moore admits, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was likewise lukewarm on right-to-work until he stunned the labor community late last year and seemingly out of nowhere threw his full weight behind the legislation.

Whether or not Corbett experiences a similar road to Damascus moment, the very fact that right-work laws are being debated and introduced in a union-stronghold like Pennsylvania (according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unions represent some 779,000 workers, or a sizable 14.6 percent of the state’s workforce, well above the national rate of 11.3 percent) reflects a paradigm shift in how such laws — and indeed, how labor unions as a whole — are viewed by the general public.

Once seen as champions of worker rights, unions more and more seem like obstacles to economic growth and inimical to basic liberties. Unless labor leaders can convince people otherwise, their power and influence will continue to shrink, no matter what happens in Pennsylvania.