Gov. Tom Corbett said Monday that Pennsylvania apparently lacks the political will to become a "right-to-work" state, a key issue for conservatives as Republicans in fellow industrial state Michigan prepare to pass such a law over the protests of organized labor.
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Corbett, a first-term Republican, has never made right-to-work legislation a priority while he battles unions on other issues. His spokesman said the governor would support such a bill if it reached his desk. Right-to-work bills languished in the GOP-controlled Legislature without even a committee vote during the recently-completed two-year session.
"There is not much of a movement to do it and lot of it has to do with the politics at the local level, at the county level and at the state level," Corbett said during a regular appearance on the Dom Giordano Program on WPHT-AM in Philadelphia. "Until I see a strong will to get legislation passed, we have a lot of other things that we have to get passed."
Right-to-work bills prohibit requirements that employees join a union or pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Supporters say it is an issue of freedom of association for workers and improving the business climate. Critics contend the real intent—to bleed unions of money and bargaining power—would destroy the middle class.
"It's a line in the sand we'll fight very hard on," said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation in Pennsylvania.
In a speech Saturday at a Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association breakfast in New York City, Corbett laid out his priorities for the future and did not mention right-to-work legislation. During his first two years in office, Corbett scored other victories for business advocates, including lower taxes and tightened limits on civil liability and unemployment compensation obligations.
A right-to-work bill in the 50-member state Senate attracted just nine sponsors, all Republicans. Absent were the names of Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi and those of about a dozen Republicans from the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions. Just 35 members of the 203-member state House joined as sponsors to a bill in that chamber.
David Patti, a Corbett supporter who leads the Harrisburg-based business advocacy group, the Pennsylvania Business Council, said Monday that right-to-work legislation is barely on his list of priorities because it is "too much of a political lift."
"This is a very pro-labor state and for the larger firms, they have long ago come to some accommodation with the workforce and organized labor," said Patti, whose members include United States Steel Corp. and General Electric Co. "If I was waving a magic wand or could do it just because I said so, sure, but we're not making an effort on it."
Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, the House Labor and Industry Committee chairman for the past two years, said he saw no chance for right-to-work legislation after he failed to get enough House support to pass what he viewed as a modest prevailing-wage change that was opposed by private-sector construction unions.
"It is a very difficult lift and if the governor is saying he's not going to lead the charge, I don't see us getting it done," Miller said.
Amid protests by unionized nurses, autoworkers and others, Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law once House and Senate Republicans reconcile wording in separate bills passed speedily last week.
It is the latest blow delivered by Republicans to organized labor in a northern industrial state. Wisconsin curtailed collective bargaining for most public employees last year and Indiana enacted a right-to-work law this year.
The number of workers belonging to a union was 779,000 in Pennsylvania in 2011, or 14.6 percent of the state's wage and salary workers, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The numbers show a steady decline in the proportion of union membership, although it remained above the U.S rate of 11.8 percent in 2011, the BLS said.