Assault on Worker Freedom Reaches Pennsylvania

Member Group : Center Square

(The Center Square) – A constitutional amendment guaranteeing collective bargaining rights – adopted in Illinois six months ago – now finds itself on the legislative calendar in Pennsylvania.

The House Labor and Industry Committee advanced the proposal Monday on a party-line vote after Democrats, who hold a slim majority in the lower chamber, said the measure will boost wages, lower inequality, and slow the state’s population exodus.

“It is vitally important that we lead the nation in worker rights, worker freedoms to join unions and develop unions,” said Rep. David Delloso, D-Ridley Park. “That is true worker freedom. Worker freedom allows you to bargain in the workplace, to bargain collectively and to express yourself in the workplace and not be an at-will employee.”

Critics argue that doing so will give unions the power to charge workers “nonmember fees” – superseding existing laws – and further weaken the state’s strained labor force and drive economic investment elsewhere.

And, that’s even if the amendment makes it through both chambers of the Legislature twice – a feat Republicans deem impossible given their comfortable majority in the Senate.

Minority Committee Chairman Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Macungie, pointed to this dynamic as he lambasted his colleagues for setting aside issues with the state’s unemployment benefits system and workforce development in favor of “pandering to special interests.”

“We’re ignoring those significant issues which are affecting workers across this commonwealth, totally ignoring them,” he said. “Instead, we’re passing these messaging bills … but if we want to actually help workers, and on May Day again of all days, we should not be giving false hope and false promises to individuals across this commonwealth that things are going to change.”

The proposal mirrors Illinois’s Amendment 1, which 54.5% of voters approved last year. Research from Illinois Policy found that residents will pay $2 billion more in property taxes through 2026 to cover the added costs associated with constitutionally mandated elements of union contracts, like mandatory staffing minimums or promotion structures, The Center Square previously reported.

The Commonwealth Foundation said the same issues hold true for Pennsylvania, where the amendment could give “extraordinary power to union executives,” which will then inflate budgets for school districts, law enforcement agencies, first responders, and other publicly funded services.

The language of the amendment could also bar legal limits on strikes, the foundation said, leading to the indefinite closure of schools, government offices, police and fire departments.

The AFL-CIO argues, however, that critics who defend the state’s “right-to-work” status do so at the behest of corporations, which benefit from paying lower wages and benefits. The organization points to research that shows low-wage jobs in right-to-work states comprise 24% of the labor market, versus 14.5% in other states.

“For me, it’s quite simple,” said Majority Chairman Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Philadelphia. “I agree … there are certain things in this state we should have a right to – the right to collective bargain and have freedoms for our workers shouldn’t be that hard.”

Regional Editor

Christen joins The Center Square as its Pennsylvania News Editor and brings with her more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues from all angles. She’s a Pennsylvania State University alumna and has been published in the The Washington Examiner, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, RealClear and Broad+Liberty, among others.