Last updated: February 19. 2013 10:18PM - 1008 Views

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PLAINS TWP. – Local union members wonder when the so-called right-to-work issue will take center stage in Pennsylvania.

In Harrisburg there is a constant fight against unions right now, Thomas Raub, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 163, said Friday at the picket line at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

Local unions have been demonstrating against the casino's use of non-union and out-of-town workers to build its hotel.

I'm sure they (Republican lawmakers) are going to try again, Raub, of Shavertown, said in reference to Michigan's decision last week to become the 24th state in the country to adopt right-to-work legislation.

Some say the issue could emerge in Pennsylvania, which like Michigan has a GOP-controlled House, Senate and governor's mansion.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is urging leaders in Harrisburg to take similar action to become more competitive.

The competition for manufacturing and heavy industry just got a little more intense and we can't let politics hold us back, said NFIB State Director Kevin Shivers. Pennsylvania relies heavily on manufacturing and industrial companies, and we can't let other states get too far out in front of us.

Shivers said the unemployment rate in the right-to-work states is lower than it is in the rest of the country. Making Pennsylvania a right-to-work would benefit its economy, he said.

I can guarantee that Pennsylvania companies are taking a hard look at Michigan, Indiana and the other right-to-work states, Shivers said. And I can guarantee that the companies that we would like to attract are also considering those states more seriously.

The idea has some local Democratic lawmakers railing against the idea and one powerful Republican saying it's not something that's on his plate for the next session.

As the son of a United Mine Worker and a member of AFSCME, I respect the labor movement's hard earned fight to secure good wage jobs in Pennsylvania. Do we really want policies meant to slash wages further as millions of Pennsylvanians struggle with unemployment and underemployment? asked state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township.

Yudichak said he will oppose national groups' efforts to undermine the fair wage values Pennsylvania law now provides.

Professor is doubtful

Even with the Republicans in control, it's doubtful such a bill would gain much traction in Pennsylvania, according to Tim Kearney, a Misericordia University professor of business.

I don't see it happening, Kearney said, adding that Pennsylvania isn't alone on the list of states in which he can't see it being implemented.

I don't think any other big industrial state will be dealing with it, he said, adding that public sector issues, including pension reform, is at the top of the legislative list to tackle next year.

State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, said pension reform is something that's on the front burner in the Senate.

He did not say whether he supported a right-to-work law in Pennsylvania, but during a phone interview he made it clear it's not something that I have a single constituent asking about it and it's not on my radar screen.

When it was pointed out that the law in Michigan wasn't on the radar screen until recently and then it was rushed through a lame duck session, he said that's not the way he operates the Senate of Pennsylvania.

My approach to legislation is we should be as transparent and open as possible when dealing with issues concerning the commonwealth, not to be doing things in a lame dunk session or late night meeting, Pileggi said.

He also noted that while the bills are introduced each session, they have never risen to the top tier of issues that have been discussed. He said the right-to-work issue is not on the Senate's agenda next session, either.

Pileggi said pension reform, transportation funding and a balanced budget are priorities next session. He said he believes the governor has the same priorities.

Corbett mum

Messages seeking comment from Gov. Tom Corbett left with his office were not returned.

There have been a couple of bills introduced in Harrisburg on the issue, but they typically see no action because most Pennsylvanians understand that workplace fairness improves conditions and pay for all workers, not just those in unions, said Bill Patton, press secretary for the House Democratic Caucus.

If an attempt is made in the upcoming session to move such legislation, House Democrats will oppose it with all means at our disposal, said Patton said.

State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said he was appalled to see what happened in Michigan and in Wisconsin earlier this year, and he says it's proof he cannot trust what the Republicans say.

He said Democrats will continue to protect the middle- and working-class and said the right-to-work law would do the opposite. He said unions were formed because of abuses by companies and they've proved to benefit not only union members but all workers in companies that have union shops.

You eliminate unions and the employers can do whatever they want. We'll go back to that, Pashinski warned.

The head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers chided Michigan lawmakers for their actions.

At a time when lawmakers' top priority should be job creation and rebuilding the middle class, Gov. Rick Snyder and the majority of the lame duck state legislature voted to silence the voices of Michigan's middle class, slash their wages and pit union and nonunion workers against each other, said IBEW President Edwin D. Hill.

Among those who have been the flag bearer for the law to be enacted in Pennsylvania is state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler. Each of the past few sessions, he has introduced right-to-work legislation and each of those attempts have seen the bills go nowhere.

When he and three other GOP house members introduced a series of bills back in May 2011, he said the action makes sense to give the state a more sound footing in the business landscape.

The framers of our Constitution never intended for our government to become an enforcer for unions or a collector of forced union dues at taxpayer expense, said Metcalfe at the time. Regardless of occupation, no one should be forced to pay union dues in exchange for the right to work.

Kearney said that all eyes will be on Michigan during the next few years. He said if companies begin relocating there and the unemployment rate drops, it could signal to states that do not have right-to-work laws on their books that perhaps the initiative is something worth looking into.

Times Leader staffer Edward Lewis contributed to this story.

About the law

• The right-to-work law in Michigan allows workers to keep their jobs in unionized companies without having to join a labor group or pay dues. The measure makes it illegal to require that nonunion workers pay fees to unions for negotiating wage contracts and other services.

• The only four states in the union that will have a Republican-controlled legislature and a GOP governor next year that do not have right-to-work laws on the books will be Alaska, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to The Washington Post.

• There are 24 states currently with Right to Work laws in effect.

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