50-State Labor Report: Pennsylvania Struggling on Worker Freedom

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After the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, a renewed battle for worker freedom has broken out across the country. The Commonwealth Foundation’s brand-new Worker Freedom in the States report is an in-depth guide to the legislative battles raging in Pennsylvania and a grading of public labor laws nationwide.

Let’s take a look at how our commonwealth stacks up.

Labor Report Highlights

  • Over 100 Janus-related state bills have been introduced, with seven enacted.
  • Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Connecticut are attempting to pass Janus rights notification for public employees.
  • Oklahoma is attempting to end resignation windows.
  • Missouri gets first prize for new reforms, including union financial reporting requirements, release time prohibition, recertification requirements, and annual dues authorization.
  • Washington and California have passed laws preventing the refunding of fair share fees.
  • Oregon and Rhode Island have instituted fair share fee alternatives.
  • 73 Janus-related lawsuits are currently ongoing by the Fairness Center and other public-interest firms.
  • Illinois and New Mexico have officially prohibited private-sector Right to Work laws.
  • Unions tried to standardize card check unionization in Pennsylvania.
  • Arizona, Indiana, and Virginia have attempted to nullify private-sector Right to Work laws.

In some states like Connecticut and New Jersey, new laws have been implemented handing unions access to state employees’ contact details and streamlining unionization votes. California and Maryland have introduced and passed even more: forcibly unionizing new classes of employees, paying union administrators’ salaries with taxpayer money, and preventing workers from recouping unconstitutional fair share fees.

The Labor Report has a grading scale, and Connecticut and New Jersey both received Ds. California and Maryland—Fs.

Pennsylvania received a D. That’s fair, considering public-sector unions’ domination of the legislature, but important progress is being made. Thanks in large part to Commonwealth Foundation and our allies, we’ve played tough defense, blocking union-endorsed bills to eliminate secret ballots in union votes. And we’ve advanced bills to ensure workers are notified of their new rights, make opting out of union membership easier, and eliminate fair share fees from state law. In a state with nearly 300,000 dues-paying union members, that’s astounding progress.

Several government employees are hopeful about these new opportunities for workers. Jayme Hollenbach, a Berks County state hospital employee and former shop steward for SEIU 668, says he understands that he needs a union but would like it to be more accountable to its members. “SEIU is no longer a union,” he says, “It’s a collection agency.” But without the flexibility for workers that labor reform legislation would provide, he’s stuck. “SEIU is entrenched in our shop,” Hollenbach explains.

Katy Phillips, a Pittsburgh math teacher and former Wall Street professional whom we’ve featured in Commonwealth Sense before, ran out of patience with her teacher’s union, the PSEA. When she scored a private $400,000 grant from the National Math and Science Initiative to help her students succeed, the PSEA barred her school from receiving funds.

The reason? Teachers were offered $100 prizes when their students excelled as a result of grant programs. That created inequality among teachers, the union argued, so the grant would have to be refused. Phillips was frustrated at PSEA’s behavior, remarking: “It’s like the only union in the world that tries to prevent its members from earning money.”

Commonsense legislative reforms like the Employee Rights Notification Act would offer workers a choice and a voice in their representation. Employee Rights Notification officially notifies workers that joining a union is their choice—a significant improvement to unions’ current strategy of red tape and fine print.

But many workers want to go even further, so they’ve started fighting union coercion in the courts. Unions’ internal procedures like “maintenance of membership,” which can prevent members from resigning for years, violate both the spirit and the letter of the Janus decision.

Several clients of the Fairness Center, a public-interest law firm allied with the Commonwealth Foundation, are standing up for transparency and resignation rights. One of their clients, William Neely, was featured in the Wall Street Journal last March when his healthcare workers’ union, AFSCME Council 13, tried to trap him in membership. Thanks to a Fairness Center lawsuit, he escaped, but many others haven’t been so lucky. But there’s good news on that front: the Fairness Center has filed class-action cases impacting nearly 20,000 state employees.

It’s true: Pennsylvania deserves a D for unions’ mistreatment of public-sector workers thus far. But after the Janus decision, we’re on the path to expanding worker freedom in the Keystone State.