Democrats walk out of Pennsylvania House committee hearing on public-sector union laws

Note: In observance of the Thanksgiving holiday, we will not be publishing Union Station on Nov. 26. Our next issue will be released on Dec. 3.

Democrats walk out of Pennsylvania House committee hearing on public-sector union laws

On Nov. 15, Democratic committee members walked out of a Pennsylvania House of Representatives Labor and Industry Committee hearing on six bills related to public-sector union laws. 

About the hearing

The committee’s minority party chairman, Rep. Gerald Mullery (D), read a statement before Democratic members left the hearing. Mullery said Democratic committee members were dissatisfied with the bills, which they did not think addressed real issues faced by workers, and that Republicans were not working in a bipartisan manner. 

According to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, “[Committee Chairman Jim Cox (R)] said at the start of the hearing that he had invited representatives from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, as well as from the state chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. However, neither agreed to appear.” Cox said, “The hearing is going to appear lopsided, it was not from a lack of effort on our side.”

The Labor and Industry Committee has 14 Republican members and nine Democratic members. Committee members who remained in the hearing heard testimony about the following bills:

  • HB 844: This bill would ban public employee social security numbers and personal contact information as subjects of collective bargaining. Rep. David Rowe (R) introduced the bill on March 9, 2021.
  • HB 845: This bill would require any proposed public employee collective bargaining agreement to be published on the public employer’s website at least 14 days before the agreement is accepted. It would also make documents from the collective bargaining process into public records subject to the state’s right-to-know law. Rowe also introduced this bill on March 9.
  • HB 2036: This bill would prohibit collective bargaining agreements from putting conditions on when public employees may join or leave a union and would prohibit maintenance of membership clauses. The bill would not apply to collective bargaining agreements for corrections officers. Rep. Greg Rothman (R) introduced the bill on Oct. 29, 2021.
  • HB 2037: This bill would require recertification elections every six years for collective bargaining units. Rep. Dawn Keefer (R) introduced the bill on Oct. 29, 2021.
  • HB 2042:  This bill would require public employers to provide non-union members with an annual notification that they are not required to make payments to a union and to provide new and returning employees with a notification that they do not have to join a union. Rep. Kate Klunk (R) introduced the bill on Nov. 3, 2021.
  • HB 2048: This bill would prohibit collective bargaining agreements from authorizing the deduction of political contributions from public employee wages. It would not apply to police or firefighters. Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R) introduced the bill on Nov. 4, 2021.

The sections below include excerpts from witness testimonies. To view each of the 23 witnesses’ prepared statements in full, click here.  

Supporting testimony

David Osborne, CEO of Americans for Fair Treatment, said: “The bills we are discussing today represent common sense solutions to the most practical problems facing public employees who want to exercise their workplace rights. I think we can all agree that public sector employees deserve to understand their rights, that no one should be forced to be a union member just to get a government job, and that everyone should have a choice when it comes to which union represents them.”

Danielle R. Acker Susanj, vice president and senior litigation counsel of The Fairness Center, said: “There are Pennsylvania public employees, including some of our clients, working today under contracts with facially unconstitutional provisions. For instance,we represented a public school teacher whose CBA with his school district says that employees must pay agency fees, or fair share fees—even though the Janus decision specifically says that such fees are unconstitutional. Incredibly, that CBA was agreed to and signed after the Janus decision, which means the union and public employer included this language even though they knew it was illegal under Janus. While representing that client, we discovered that at least 20 CBAs signed after Janus by local school districts and local PSEA-affiliates also say that employees must pay these illegal fees.” 

Opposing testimony

A letter from leaders of six Pennsylvania public sector unions in the CLEAR Coalition said: “The agenda of today’s public hearing is nothing more than an ideologically driven attack, funded by out-of-state billionaires and extremist organizations that seek to diminish unions and their role in the workplace. Make no mistake, the ‘union reform’ bills are not about protecting workers’ rights and freedoms. Rather than use a standing committee of the General Assembly to address the very real concerns of Pennsylvanians, anti-worker politicians have chosen to use their power and public platform to push an agenda that would make it harder for public service workers to join together to have a voice in the workplace, a voice that ensures workers’ rights and freedoms, and leads to higher quality public services for all Pennsylvanians.” 

Jeffrey T. Sultanik, chair of the Education Law Group at Fox Rothschild LLP, said: “For the past 43 years, I have been practicing education law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and have negotiated hundreds of teachers’ and support staff contracts. I have been involved in nearly every aspect of management and public sector labor union interactions … While I appreciate the efforts of the legislature to address public employee personal information, collective bargaining transparency, employee rights notification, the repeal of maintenance of membership, the requirements for union recertification and the PAC-Only paycheck protection legislation, I do not believe any of these forms of legislation will substantively improve the position of public employers in interacting with its labor unions and its employees. This is particularly true in a labor short economy that we are currently facing.” 

Pennsylvania has a divided government. Governor Tom Wolf is a Democrat, while the Republican Party controls both chambers of the state legislature. There are 113 Republicans and 89 Democrats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and 28 Republicans and 21 Democrats in the state Senate. Two-thirds of members in both chambers must vote to override a veto—meaning 136 of the 203 members in the House and 34 of the 50 members in the Senate.

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 110 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue. 

  • Wisconsin AB687: This bill would give certain school district, educational service, college district, and university system employees the right to bargain collectively over wages, hours, and employment conditions.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Introduced, read for the first time, and referred to the Assembly Labor and Integrated Employment Committee on Nov. 12.