PA Big Labor Spends in PA Against Right to Work

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Big Labor officials are spending money on Pennsylvania’s State Supreme Court races in early November, attempting to keep forced dues alive and well for the Keystone State.  John Finnerty has the story in the Meadeville Tribune Online.

 Believing political influence of the state Supreme Court hangs in the balance of Nov. 3 polling, labor unions have donated heavily to the three Democrats running in what will be an historic election.

The three Democrats had six times as much money in the bank as their three Republican opponents when they filed their most recent spending reports.

That’s largely because of a cascade of labor cash.

The state’s labor groups have taken full advantage. It’s a pre-emptive strike as unions try to avoid being caught flat-footed by last-minute spending by conservative dark-money groups, said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the state’s AFL-CIO.

“We are worried about the dark money,” Bloomingdale said, adding that he’s surprised outside spending hasn’t turned up yet. With three weeks until the election, there’s still time.

He referenced the Wisconsin election in which groups linked to the billionaire Koch Brother spent millions to help conservative judges win seats on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That court last year upheld a so-called Right to Work law that lets employees decline to join unions at their workplaces.

“The Legislature reacts to popular movements and the Supreme Court is supposed to even that out,” Bloomingdale said. “If there are anti-worker crusades, like we’ve been seeing, we look for a backstop.”

The fundraising advantage comes as labor groups press to help Democrats gain control of the state Supreme Court. The November election will be the first time in Pennsylvania history that three seats are up for election for the state’s top court. Two of the three seats had been held by Republican judges. Each of the major political parties has two of the remaining seats on the Supreme Court, so the election will determine who has the majority on the bench.

That has implications for issues of specific interest to labor groups, and broader implications that will affect all Pennsylvanians, said David Fillman, executive director of Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Of more particular interest to the unions, that also gives some insight into how the court might view hot-button issues like the Right to Work campaign and other efforts to hamstring unions, Fillman said.

In other states, there have been lawsuits over the question of whether the union contract can require nonunion workers to make “fair-share” payments even if they don’t want to be in the labor organization.
For instance, state government employees who don’t belong to AFSCME are required to pay the labor group about 80 percent of the amount union members contribute in dues. Those payments are intended to cover the union’s cost of negotiating the labor contract, which sets the benefits provided to employees regardless of whether they belong to the group.

Closer to home, Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania have introduced bills that bar the state payroll system from deducting union dues from government workers’ paychecks, Fillman said. If that legislation were to become law, the union would sue to stop it, he said. Like with the fair-share payments, critics say that the government shouldn’t be in the business of collecting money that an organization can use for political purposes.

The hot-button issue for construction workers tends to be prevailing wage — the law that sets the pay rate for labor on government projects, said Frank Sirianni, president of the Pennsylvania Building and Trades Council. There have a number of lawsuits over attempts to trim the number of jobs in which the prevailing wage is used, he said.

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