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Post-Janus, PA lawmakers float bills attacking unions and their members

With the Janus ruling behind us, legislators are teeing up anti-worker bills in Harrisburg aimed at decimating the strength and effectiveness of our public sector unions.

House Bill 2586 would require public-sector unions to allow non-members to vote in strike authorization votes.

House Bill 2593 would make it easier for current union members to leave their unions, and a co-sponsorship memo is being circulated for a bill requiring public employee union members to recertify their unions.

A memo circulated by Rep. Fred Keller, R-Snyder, would mandate a minimum 45-day period for members of a public service union to leave at the conclusion of a contract, as well as 10 days of notification for members beforehand. In an effort to make the proposal seem benign, Keller called it “a consumer protection thing,” comparing it to the notice of finishing an electricity or cellphone agreement.

“This is ridiculous,” said AFTPA President Ted Kirsch. “I’ve never received a notice from my cell phone or electricity provider telling me, ‘It’s time to get out of your contract. We’re so eager for you to leave, we’re not only giving you notice, but we’re also extending the time in which you can do it!’”

Kirsch scoffed, “This is a blatant attack on union members.”

Entering and leaving the unions is usually decided during collective bargaining, with both sides agreeing to the terms. The proposal wouldn’t affect AFTPA locals immediately, but rather when their next contract is negotiated. The Pennsylvania Public Employee Relations (Act 195 Act of 1970) already gives workers a “drop” window of 15 days prior to the end of a contract.

Another proposal, from conservative GOP Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, seems to be targeted specifically to take unions down. In a co-sponsor memo, Grove called for a bill similar to one passed in three Midwestern states that mandate regular certification votes by state public sector unions. Grove reasoned in the memo that given many of the union’s initial certifications in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the votes could “affirm” that employees still felt represented.

If passed, the bill would mandate each state public sector union hold a vote within two years of enactment. Then, each union would hold certification votes every subsequent six years.

“This is completely unnecessary,” Kirsch explained, “because state law gives members the ability to hold an election to end representation by their union at the request of 30 percent of the members. This law will tie up locals in expensive, divisive internal battles – taking resources away from the issues that members expect us to help them with.”

Under state law, if 30 percent of members request it, a union can hold a decertification vote. If more than 50 percent of the members affirm the union, it stays. If not, it is dissolved. Members have to wait a full year from the vote to unionize under a different union. The state labor relations board reports that six public sector unions decertified in 2015 and nine did in 2016.

When Iowa enacted similar legislation, according to the Des Moines Register, resulting elections had 88-percent turnout, while 436 of 468 participating unions — or 93 percent — affirmed their solidarity.

Conservative Rep. Cris Dush, a western PA lawmaker, proposed allowing non-members to vote in crucial strike authorization votes. His bill would also require secret-ballot voting. The PERA allows union members to strike and it is up to member-run unions to determine the rules and timing of such votes. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Labor and Industry.

Kirsch said it is up to each local to set the rules around strike votes, but he knows of no union that allows workers who do not pay union dues to have a voice in governance, ratifications or strikes.

“Unions are member-led and member-driven organizations. The government has no place telling us how to run them. Does the Pennsylvania General Assembly allow every resident of the state to come in and vote on bills? Do corporations give proxies to people who aren’t shareholders? This bill defies the very purpose of membership,” Kirsch explained.

Not all legislation has membership up in arms. A memo with bipartisan sponsors — Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Dauphin, and Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Monroe, is aimed at making it easier to form a union.

“I think most workers see [a] use to being part of the union,” Mehaffie said.

Their bill would let a card check suffice to organize a workplace over the usual two-tier process of 30 percent of workers having a card before an organized vote. The bill also guarantees union representatives access to workplaces.

“It’s more important than ever that AFTPA members affirm their union membership by signing recommit membership forms and participating in #StickingWithMyUnion campaigns,” Kirsch said. “The Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME just opened the floodgates for anti-union lawmakers. ALEC has so-called model legislation at the ready to take unions – and by extension workers – down.”

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