Gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango spoke out against right-to-work laws at a debate last Monday. It was a bewildering thing to hear from a Republican running statewide, even in union-friendly Pennsylvania.
“I’m not going to have a blanket right-to-work policy as governor of Pennsylvania,” he declared.
He made his remarks in an awkward setting: at a forum hosted by the state chapter of the Associate Builders and Contractors to coincide with their “Free Enterprise Day.” He was answering a question from moderator R.J. Harris and knew his answer wouldn’t please many in the room, so give him points for candor — but little else.
Recall, both former Gov. Tom Corbett and former Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley favored a right-to-work policy whereby all workers who decline union membership may also refuse to pay union dues. Twice-elected U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey takes the same position. So does Donald Trump, the first Republican to carry Pennsylvania in a presidential race in 28 years.
Thus no one was shocked when Mango’s two primary opponents, Scott Wagner and Laura Ellsworth, both said they too want to make Pennsylvania a right-to-work state. The policy would ban an immoral, coercive practice at no major political cost to those supporting enactment. Why does Mango disagree? Does he know something these others don’t?
“You’re talking about the forgotten [union] men and women that President Trump handed to the Republican Party,” Mango said at the debate. “You’re talking about people who are pro-life, pro-guns, pro-family, pro-veteran, pro-work. You’re talking about folks who are going to train our next generation of skilled labor in their apprenticeship shops, and I’m not prepared to throw our law enforcement officers and our firefighters under the bus.”
Let’s concede the weird fiction that Trump “handed” the GOP new voters (never mind that the less populist Toomey received more votes statewide for his re-election that same year, nor that many of the Democrats who favored Trump still opposed other Republicans). Trump did win Pennsylvania — a remarkable achievement — but he won it without embracing forced unionism.
By that point, Wisconsin and Michigan revealed the potential for success is even greater; both states not only supported Trump in 2016, but re-elected their respective Republican governors in 2014 after those governors ended forced unionism there.
Regarding Mango’s observation that many union members are “pro-life, pro-guns, pro-family, pro-veteran, pro-work,” it makes sense to support all those causes without adding compulsory union dues to the list. Many who embrace unions conceptually are actually against forcing non-members to pay dues. A 2014 Gallup poll found that 77 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independents nationwide generally approve of labor unions while also favoring right-to-work laws, 65 percent and 77 percent respectively.
Will union workers “train our next generation of skilled labor in their apprenticeship shops,” as Mango expects? Just a few of them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.7 percent of private-sector construction workers in Pennsylvania in 2017 were union members while only 12.3 percent of private-sector manufacturing workers were union-affiliated last year.
On to law enforcement and firefighters: Leaving aside the question of whether ending forced unionism really amounts to tossing them “under the bus,” both types of workers are exempted from Michigan and Wisconsin’s new laws. The same exemptions would almost certainly be made in Pennsylvania.
Mango did say he would dismantle union coercion for one public-sector occupation: teachers. “When it comes to the teachers’ unions, I’ve been vehemently against them for a long time,” he insisted. This is welcome, but slightly arbitrary. If opposing forced dues demeans workers, as Mango wrongly suggests, does he then feel he demeans public school teachers?
Some of Mango’s argument against a right-to-work law is grossly political. Some of it may be well-intentioned. None of it is right.
Bradley Vasoli is president of Hill Media Strategies in Montgomery County, PA.