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Reps would tighten screws on Pa. unions

Republicans look to amend the state constitution

With prominent strikes underway and more threatened across the country, Republicans in Harrisburg are moving to effectively weaken unions, in one case by amending the state constitution.

Legislators have proposed several bills in the past two weeks that would put unions — particularly public-sector unions — on the defensive. The move comes as congressional Democrats work to include their own labor-law reforms in President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

On Monday, state Rep. Torren Ecker, R-Adams, told colleagues he would propose a constitutional amendment that would pre-emptively ban so-called card check elections. The amendment — which would have to pass in two consecutive sessions before passing a public ballot referendum — would require all union elections to be carried out by secret ballot.

“Just as citizens want elections to be conducted freely, fairly, and anonymously, employees participating in workplace elections deserve the same right,” Ecker said.

Under existing federal law, a percentage of workers seeking to organize must gather signed cards. Their employer has the option to recognize the union immediately, or to request a government-monitored election by secret ballot.

For decades, union activists have pushed for a return to the old card check system, under which workers could win instant recognition simply by turning in enough signed cards. Full elections, on the other hand, are often delayed, allowing employers time to carry out their own anti-union campaigns.

Other House bills could chip away at the unions representing public-sector workers.

One by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh, would forbid the deduction of optional union political donations from public workers’ paychecks. Another by Rep. Kate Klunk, R-York, would require state workers to be regularly reminded of their right not to pay union dues, despite being represented by unions at the bargaining table.

Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-York, proposed a bill late last month that would require public unions to face recertification votes every six years — a process that would regularly put organizers on the defensive.

The new wave of bills comes as congressional Democrats move to set tougher rules on employers accused of violating workers’ organizing rights. Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill, still under heated debate in the Capitol, could include a provision to fine companies that interfere with workers’ collective action.

Rick Bloomingdale, head of the state’s largest labor federation, called the bill a “transformational step forward for our commonwealth and our country” last week. Its final form — if it even passes amid tough intraparty bargaining — remains to be seen.

Smooth election amid legal struggle

A calm and mostly trouble-free Election Day last Tuesday could prove to be a brief interlude between bouts of election-law fighting.

State officials reported few major issues, with more than 700,000 Pennsylvanians returning mail-in ballots in an election that saw relatively low turnout in many areas. It was a far cry from 2020’s record-setting general election, which drew a national spotlight on Pennsylvania.

Lawmakers in both parties are still pushing to change the state’s voting laws, including Republicans who’ve moved to invalidate the law that allows mail-in voting.

Last week, Democratic Rep. Regina Young, D-Philadelphia, announced plans for a slate of new bills in the opposite direction. Young’s three proposals include a three-week period before elections to count early mail-in ballots, a requirement that some votes be tallied ahead of time and a warning for voters whose signatures don’t appear to match those on file.

“Voters should have the opportunity to prove their identity and affirm their signature,” Young said.

The proposals may not move far under a GOP-run Legislature. A voting-rights deal between Republican lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf has proven elusive.

D.C. reps move against Biden vaccine rules

At least one Pennsylvania congressman has joined an effort to stop the president’s new business vaccine mandate before it begins.

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, is among 17 Republicans backing H.R. 5811, a bill that would stop funding for any Department of Labor program mandating COVID-19 vaccines.

Biden announced the long-awaited rules Thursday: Businesses with more than 100 employees must mandate full vaccination by Jan. 4, and employees who refuse must get weekly coronavirus tests. Many health care workers will have no testing option under the new rule.

The policies are set to be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Lawmaker opposes ‘woke’ signs

A lawmaker who serves with the state’s museum office is floating a proposal to privatize the approval of Pennsylvania’s familiar blue historical markers, the Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported.

Rep. Parke Wentling, R-Crawford, discussed the idea last week in a magazine op-ed. Wentling sits on the board of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which approves the blue-and-gold markers that discuss important sites, events and people.

Recent efforts to ensure more diversity and inclusion in the process are tied to “woke cancel culture,” Wentling said, comparing the commission to the tyrannical Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

Officials have worked to address outdated messages on the signs, many of which predate the commission itself.

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Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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