Pa. Workers Mobilize Against Right-to-Work
January 28, 2013
While gridlock reigns in the legislative halls of Washington, D.C., states are churning with anti-union bills, including Pennsylvania, where activists are fighting back.
The Central Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades are “showing a united front and getting word out to business managers and members to keep them abreast of right-to-work bills and other legislation that would hurt our members,” says Harrisburg, Local 143 Business Manager Robert Bair.
While Republican legislator Rep. Darryl Metcalfe has introduced right-to-work bills in the state legislature for 14 years that failed to pass, the Ed Show quotes Rick Smith, host of the regionally-syndicated radio program The Rick Smith Show about the challenge presented by several new bills that would undermine collective bargaining. Describing a bill that would allow unionized public employees the option to leave their unions whenever they choose, Smith says:
The Bloom bill [proposed by Republican Rep. Stephen Bloom] is particularly dangerous because it may be viewed as not as extreme while achieving the same destructive ends.
Mike Kwashnik, business manager of Wilkes Barre Local 163, agrees with Smith’s assessment, taking his warning from last year’s legislative session.
Last year, we had a horrible bill on unemployment benefits pass the legislature. It took effect on Jan. 1 and devastates construction workers by making it even harder to achieve eligibility. The state is trying to balance the unemployment benefits budget deficit on the backs of construction workers.
Bills are also introduced in the current session, says Kwashnik, to gut the ability of employers and unions to negotiate project labor agreements.
As local unions across Pennsylvania brainstorm to stop anti-worker legislation, Robert Bair draws hope from the success of unions during the November 2012 election cycle in turning members out to vote in Central Pennsylvania, helping elect three new friends of working families to the state senate. He says:
The building trades will be circling the wagons to stop right-to-work.
Kwashnik, who recently hosted a presentation by his local union’s attorney explaining the damage being wrought by the state’s more restrictive unemployment compensation program, says his local is focusing on educating members to the real facts on right-to-work. He says:
International President Hill said it all in his column, “Michigan’s Big Step Backward,” in the January issue of The Electrical Worker. He pointed to how right-to-work laws drive down wages for all workers by an average of $1,500 a year, whether they are union or not. He also highlighted that 28 percent more workers go without health insurance in right-to-work states than in non right-to-work states.