Three Ways Lawmakers are Expanding Worker Rights

Over the last two years, Pennsylvania lawmakers have taken great effort to improve our state’s labor laws to protect workers’ basic rights.

However, as brave public servants like Greg Hartnett, an elementary art teacher from Western Pennsylvania, have told lawmakers, important changes must still be made:

I wanted to come out from under the union…it took a great deal of time and effort to do so. For me, that was a very difficult time. I was pretty much fed-up, frustrated, exasperated through years of having to kind of comply, feeling there was no way out for me. I know there are people like me as well.

No workers should be blocked from exercising their constitutional rights due to burdensome union contracts and unfair state laws. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this, ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that union leaders cannot force non-members like Hartnett to fund their organization against the worker’s will.

Yet, barriers remain in Pennsylvania, including state laws directly violating the Supreme Court’s ruling. This led Pennsylvania lawmakers to introduce a slew of reforms late in 2018, building upon labor reform efforts spanning the entire 2017-18 legislative session.

This latest installment of our legislative recap series highlights reforms lawmakers have made progress on and must continue to champion in 2019.

1. Protecting Public Resources

Under Pennsylvania state law, public sector employees are allowed to work full-time for their union while remaining on the public payroll, accruing seniority, health benefits, and pensions. For example, taxpayers paid $1.3 million for Allentown School District “ghost teachers” who were not in classrooms or even in schools, but doing union work.

  • Sen. Patrick Stefano and Rep. Rick Saccone recognized the absurdity of funding unions with public resources and aimed to prohibit public school teachers from working for the union full-time on the taxpayer dime by sponsoring SB 494 and HB 164. Both bills passed committee.

Currently, our state government collects political money—including contributions to political action committees—for government union leaders. They are the only special interest group enjoying this unfair service.

  • Sen. John Eichelberger aimed to prohibit the collection of political money with public resources by sponsoring a paycheck protection bill (SB 166).

A majority of voters and union members believe government shouldn’t collect union money. Most lawmakers agreed, but sadly the legislation fell short in the House after passing the Senate.

2. Improving Transparency

Union leaders and government officials—who receive union campaign donations—negotiate costly contracts in closed door meetings. Legislators sought to increase accountability in this process by expanding Pennsylvania’s transparency laws. The following legislation passed out of committee:

  • SB 503, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Augment, opened negotiations to the public.
  • SB 504, sponsored by Sen. Scott Martin, made negotiation documentation accessible via the Right-to-Know law.
  • SB 168, sponsored by Sen. Pat Stefano, required posting contracts two weeks prior to their ratification.

3. Implementing the Rights Affirmed in Janus v. AFSCME

Janus ruled “fair share fees” levied on nonunion public sector employees were unconstitutional. Shortly after the decision, legislators introduced six bills, including five in just the House, to enforce Janus and protect Pennsylvania workers. Two bills reached the full House for consideration.

  • HB 2571, sponsored by Rep. Kate Klunk, required the government to inform state workers that they aren’t required to join a union, and removed unconstitutional “fair share fee” state laws.
  • HB 2593, sponsored by Rep. Fred Keller, eased the “maintenance of membership” provision, which limits workers' right to resign, by expanding the resignation window from 15 to 45 days.
  • SB 1278, sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger, was a comprehensive reform bill, including reforms to end union's “exclusive representation” in contract negotiations, eliminate “maintenance of membership” provisions in favor of an annual union membership “opt-in,” and allow employees to routinely election their union (more than 99 percent of public school teachers and state workers have never voted for their union).

Eliminating loopholes that abuse public resources, ensuring teachers are paid to teach, and giving all public sector workers a true voice in their union are commonsense changes that will empower workers. 

Not seeing these crucial reforms through is unacceptable for Pennsylvanians like Greg Hartnett. It’s vital for Pennsylvania lawmakers to continue to fight for workers' rights in 2019.

Click the images below for our other 2017-18 session recap blogs.

To read more 2017-18 session recap blogs click the images below, or visit the 2017-18 Key Policy Developments page.