Right-to-work right for Pa.
Advocates for permitting Pennsylvania workers to opt out of paying union dues are continuing their decade-long effort to add the commonwealth to a growing number of right-to-work states.
Right-to-work has been gaining momentum since 2010, with three Rust Belt states where unions are strong -- Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan -- bringing the national of right-to-work states to a half-dozen.
After Michigan's Republican legislature passed, and its Republican governor signed, a right-to-work law last month, Gov. Tom Corbett said he doubted the "political will" exists for Pennsylvania to join the trend.
Corbett has said he would sign, but not push for, legislation to allow Pennsylvania workers to decide whether they wish to pay union dues.
That was the stand of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, until unions there tried and failed in a bid to amend the state constitution to outlaw right-to-work laws in Michigan.
Advocates say that unions should not be able to require workers to pay union dues, often through automatic payroll deductions in union shops. They point to lower unemployment rates and more growth in manufacturing employment in states where workers are not compelled to share their paychecks with organized labor.
Opponents counter that wages are higher in states with pro-union laws (although some economists say that, taking the cost of living into account, the gap is eliminated entirely). They also say requiring all workers in a union shop to pay dues is only fair since all workers benefit from the pay and benefits those unions are able to secure in contract negotiations.
Manufacturing is a significant source of economic output and jobs in Pennsylvania, generating $71 billion in 2011, while employing nearly 10 percent of the state's workers in jobs paying an average of $20,000 more per year than other non-farm employment, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.
Nationwide, manufacturing accounts for 12 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and less than 10 percent of U.S. employment, but also holds "the potential to reduce the trade deficit and the ability to produce good jobs for middle-skilled workers," according to a Brookings Institution analysis last year.
Jobs in the industry have been expanding since hitting a low point of 11.5 million in January 2010.
Can Pennsylvania benefit from the expansion in U.S. manufacturing? And can workers in this state benefit more if state laws change to encourage non-union manufacturing plants, which do not threaten companies with productivity-killing strikes? Or would switching to right-to-work simply put Pennsylvania in the lead in a race to the bottom, wage-wise?
The questions about right-to-work are open to debate, but it seems clear that, if job growth is a priority, right-to-work becomes more attractive.
And, given that wages are not that different in union and right-to-work states once the cost of living is taken into account, the debate really comes down to a philosophical one.
Should workers be required to pay union dues or free to seek the best wages they can from their employers on their own? Do unions in Pennsylvania serve workers' interests, or are they mostly an arm of the Democratic Party that pay their executives well while leaving workers with little benefit?
These are questions worth asking. And, whether the governor wants to join the conversation or not, the Legislature ought to seriously debate right-to-work.
The state's economic future ought not be held hostage by union bosses' scare tactics and political clout.
Right-to-work has been gaining momentum across the country since 2010.