Unions have poured millions of dues-payers' dollars into the campaigns of Pennsylvania politicians who pass and preserve laws favoring unions, and who approve pay and benefits - especially pensions - for public service employee union members which have impoverished municipalities, school districts, counties and the Commonwealth. And politicians in both major parties receive union money.
Democratic icon and labor ally, Franklin Roosevelt, described public-sector unions as "unthinkable and intolerable."
"The process of collective bargaining as usually understood cannot be transplanted to public service," Roosevelt said. "A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct or prevent the operations of government until their demands are satisfied."
Some states are dealing with their labor issues.
In December, facing a choice between job growth and further economic stagnation, Michigan, widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern labor movement, became a right-to-work state. Michigan joined neighbors Wisconsin and Indiana and 21 other states in eliminating union membership as a condition of employment.
These three Midwestern "rust belt" states changed their laws in recognition of market realities. Legislation can artificially increase the costs of labor through forced unionization and prevailing wage laws, but cannot increase worker productivity. When labor costs exceed labor productivity, developers import non-union construction labor, unionized companies outsource, move, automate or go out of business. Union jobs are lost. Discriminatory laws favoring unions discourage employers from forming businesses in, relocating to, or expanding businesses in jurisdictions which unions control. Accordingly, non-union jobs are also lost.
Market realities affect the commonwealth, too. Nonetheless, Pennsylvania is one of only four states having a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature that does not have a right-to-work law. Recently, Gov. Tom Corbett said Pennsylvania "lacks the will" to pass a right-to-work bill. His spokesman has said that the governor supports the legislation and would sign it, but that a bill is unlikely to pass the Legislature. That's probably right. Previously-introduced right-to-work bills have languished in Pennsylvania's Legislature. Public records revealing union campaign contributions to Pennsylvania legislators, including Republican leadership, suggest how right-to-work bills may expire in either chamber.
Accepting any amount of union campaign cash renders unpersuasive any politician's protests that union money doesn't influence their votes. Talk is cheap. It takes political courage to call or cast a vote.
So, while acknowledging Pennsylvania's current "lack-of-will" political climate, let's set aside the opposing arguments over right-to-work and prevailing wages and give the Legislature a (temporary) pass on those. Let's just consider two reasonable labor reforms which make sense and are fair and easily justifiable.
While many Pennsylvanians remain jobless, the commonwealth faces difficult budget choices and worthwhile programs serving deserving citizens are necessarily cut, taxpayers should not bear the cost of automatic payroll deduction of dues owed by public-sector union members and remitting them to their unions. Why should unions enjoy unique privileges at taxpayer expense? The legislature should pass legislation making all unions responsible for collecting their own dues.
Many members forced to join as a condition of employment never voted to certify the union to which they pay dues. Depending on the chamber in which they serve, Pennsylvania's legislators must run for reelection every two or four years. Politicians must periodically convince constituents of their value as officeholders. Similarly, the legislature should require unions to face their constituent members every two years, to prove their value to the workers whose dues Pennsylvania currently confiscates on the unions' behalf, and, using secret ballots, guarantee workers the freedom to re-certify their bargaining units — or to decertify them without lengthy, expensive court challenges.
Pennsylvania proves columnist George Will's labor axiom: "Freedom is not the unions' friend." In reality, right-to-work legislation is pro-labor, allowing personal choice. It is only criticized as anti-labor by union organizations which depend upon forced membership and by politicians whose campaigns benefit from union cash.
Pennsylvania right-to-work legislation, pension reform, and paycheck protections may seem politically improbable, but they are inevitable. When state politicians enact these reforms, either out of conviction or necessity, Pennsylvania will become more prosperous.