House Bill 50 or the Freedom of Employment Act is a right-to-work law. This means agreements between unions and management are prohibited. It also means the unions cannot receive mandatory dues or fees from employees. Pennsylvania is generally known to have a large union presence. This is evident looking upon its history involving labor.
The expansion of the mining and steel industries created many job opportunities. With these opportunities came a call for a unionized workforce. Important organizations such as the Knights of Labor were created in Philadelphia in 1869. Unions are still strong in Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania still has a higher percent of unions than the national average. Unions are popular in Pennsylvania and also are contributors to Democrats and Republicans. This gives the bill some grim chances of passing. Despite saying he would pass the bill, Governor James Corbett is ambivalent about its chances. The Governor commented Pennsylvanians “lacked the political will” to pass a right-to-work law. The Governor may prove right in his assessment. If the bill fails, Pennsylvania will be better off.
House Bill 50 would drastically hurt the working class of Pennsylvania, and is designed specially to squash union power. The rationale behind this law is that workers should be free to choose if they want to join a union or not. This does not stand under scrutiny. State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the sponsor of this bill, claims he is running the bill through because he is fighting against “compulsory unionism.”
Section Three of House Bill 50 outlines this sentiment. There are three parts of this section. The first part states, “No person may be required to become or remain a member of a labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment.” This section is not needed because, despite what Representative Metcalfe says, Pennsylvania does not force people into unions. In fact, no states, can force a person into a union. This is because of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. This federal law amended the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and get rid of closed shops that only allowed unionized employees. Workers who join a business and are not part of the union do not have to pay dues. Instead they have to pay a less expensive fee to the union. This would ensure the money only goes to collective bargaining, providing services, and nothing else. If a worker does not agree with the union’s politics then it is perfectly fine because none of their fee money goes to the union’s political causes. The third part of section three of the bill is designed to stop this. It reads “No person may be required to pay or refrain from paying any dues, fees or other charges of any kind to a labor organization.” This law is favorable to non-unionized workers because they do not have to pay their dues, yet get all of the benefits. The unions are required, by law, to help every employee union or non-union if they are wrongfully terminated. In fact, a non-union employee can even sue the union if they do not represent them in court. There are 734,000 unionized workers in Pennsylvania. There are another 53,000 workers who are not car carrying union members yet are still represented by the unions. The right-to-work law would take away the union’s rights to simply collect fees from these employees. This creates the free-rider problem, of people contributing nothing and getting rewarded for it. The unions fully support those workers who do not support them. It is only fair they receive some compensation for their services. House Bill 50 creates a wholly unfair and hostile environment for the unions.
This bill will ruin Pennsylvania’s popular labor tradition and create an unfair climate for the union, but it also will have a graver effect on my district and Pennsylvania itself. Simply put, right-to-work laws have a negative impact on the states in which they are implemented. Pennsylvania will be no exception. Right-to-work laws will see wages drop which will hurt everyone in the state. This is because unions fight to keep wages fair. If the unions are not able to fight for the workers anymore, then the employers will take advantage of this. This would result in decreasing wages. In the end, the right-to-work laws will cut wages which will hurt everyone in Pennsylvania. There is widespread proof of this. Good examples would be to study the effects of right-to-work laws on other states. Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia have wages that are three percent lower than other states. This was done by the Laborer’s International Union of North America, but many non-union affiliated organizations agree with this sentiment. The non-partisan and non-profit Economic Policy Institute did a study on right-to-work states versus non right-to-work state. The conclusion was that there was an average drop in wages of $1,500 per year as adjusted for cost of living in each state. This drop was for both union and non-union workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistic also came to a similar conclusion about right-to-work states. In their study median wages were researched. They found wages for citizens living in right-to-work states were $11.45, while wages for citizens living in non-right-to-work states were $13. That is an 11.9 percent wage difference.
I cannot vote for this bill because I know it will hurt my constituent’s way of life. Right-to-work laws decrease wages at a rate which is unacceptable. Everyone should be entitled to make a fair wage. This keeps our state strong with a thriving middle-class.
Jack Barnett is a fourth-year student majoring in history and political science. He can be reached at JB723722@wcupa.edu.