The proposed law is identical to an Illinois Constitutional Amendment enacted last year. It would prevent lawmakers from adopting a “right-to-work” policy protecting nonunion workers from being forced to pay union dues. It would also counteract any state statute that checks labor organizations’ power, thereby vastly increasing public-sector unions’ bargaining clout.
State Representative Elizabeth Fiedler (pictured above) (D-Philadelphia), the avowed socialist who sponsored the measure, delivered floor remarks suggesting her amendment is needed to improve the lot of working Pennsylvanians.
“Today, the fight for livable wages and benefits and safe working conditions continues for Pennsylvania’s home health workers, newsroom employees, warehouse workers, baristas and many more,” she said. “Workers are people and regardless of their labor they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect; they also fuel our economy. The workers-rights amendment that we have put in front of us today is critical to supporting Pennsylvania workers and their families by guaranteeing simply… the right to organize and collectively bargain.”
In practice, Republicans said, the amendment would nullify a host of state laws that govern public-sector unions’ contractual arrangements with the commonwealth as well as its various municipalities and school districts. The bill’s opponents expressed additional concern that it could compromise enforcement of government workers’ rights to decline union membership and dues as guaranteed by the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Janus v. AFSCME.
The language of the proposed amendment reads, “No law shall be passed that interferes with, negates or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively over their wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment and work place safety.”
House Labor and Industry Committee Minority Chair Ryan Mackenzie (R-Macungie) said such sweeping language would negate a number of state labor statutes, including protections against stalking and harassment during labor disputes. All the while, he said, the Democrat-run House is neglecting more substantive state policies that would improve Pennsylvania’s economy and the welfare of workers.
“Let’s do the right thing,” he said. “Let’s stand up for workers and let’s vote ‘no’ on House Bill 950 but actually take up the work of providing workforce development programs, unemployment-compensation benefits that need to be fixed and do all the good work that we can as a legislative body together.”
The measure passed the chamber 102-99, nearly along party lines. State Representative Tom Mehaffie (R-Hershey), easily the most economically liberal GOP House member, was the sole Republican to join all Democrats in support. The legislation is broadly expected to die in the GOP-run state Senate, which Republicans control 28-22. For the amendment to ever become part of the Pennsylvania Constitution, it must pass both chambers in two consecutive sessions and then get approved by a majority of voters in an election.
After the vote, Americans for Prosperity-Pennsylvania Deputy State Director Emily Greene characterized the Democrats’ effort as “simply posturing for special interests” by advancing a bill that will not make it out of the Senate. She added that it will only weaken Keystone State workers’ rights if it ever passes the legislature in the future.
“This ideological pursuit of forced unionization does nothing to advance worker freedom in Pennsylvania,” she said. “Far from promoting freedom, a constitutional amendment to enshrine forced collective bargaining and union payments deprives Keystone State workers of the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. Under this amendment, private sector workers would have fewer rights than public sector unions, whose freedom of association is protected by the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME.”
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