By BRIAN FERRY
You have a right to work in Pennsylvania.
You do not necessarily have a right to work without paying union dues.
A right-to-work law passed in Michigan last week, meaning employees there will not have to join unions nor pay union dues. They may if they wish.
Indiana also became a right-to-work state earlier this year. Those two are the 23rd and 24th states to adopt that legislation.
Will Pennsylvania be next?
A bill introduced by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-12) and co-sponsored by Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-65) would make it so. "I do support right-to-work," Rapp said Thursday.
She knows she will face opposition to that stance. "The unions have a real stronghold here in the state. They're big contributors to both parties, both the House and Senate," she said. "Any time when we're dealing with legislation that affects union members... whether it's education or labor and industry... the minute we try to do legislation... we are bombarded with emails and phone calls from those members."
"They have a right to do that," she said, "and that does have an effect."
"I am not in opposition to unions," Rapp said. "I do believe that you should have the freedom to make that choice as to whether or not you want to belong to those unions, whether or not you want to pay those dues."
Pennsylvania law does not require employees to join the union at their shops, but does require that they pay union dues. "I believe as a representative that people should have the right to choose whether or not they pay those union dues," she said. "You should be able to have a job based on your credentials and your ability to perform that job."
"If you want to join another organization, you have the right to choose what you're going to be a member of," Rapp said. "But if you have a certain job, you are forced to join that organization."
"It's a matter of freedom. It's a matter of liberty," she said. "It's a matter of you having the right to choose where your dollars go."
"To me, bottom line, it's about freedom and the right to do with the dollars in your pocket," she said.
And, it's not just about an individual's choice.
"It's not just about unions," Rapp said. "It's about prevailing wage."
Prevailing wage laws require that government contractors pay at a certain wage rate. That rate goes up with the presence of unions.
"We've been trying to pass a higher threshold for prevailing wage," Rapp said. "That's something that our rural townships have been crying for. (The current prevailing wage requirements) can increase the cost of a project... a third."
"Because of the stronghold of the unions in this state we can not even raise the threshold for those projects," she said.
It is late in the year. There will be future versions of the bill.
"Rep. Metcalfe contacted me the other day to see if I was going to co-sponsor the right-to-work bill and I said I would," Rapp said. "He and I will be working, as well as other co-sponsors in this legislation... to promote right-to-work legislation."
The 2011 and 2012 versions of the bill were not the first sponsored by Metcalfe.
"These bills have been around," Rapp said. "Rep. Metcalfe has actually been the prime sponsor for at least 10 years."
The change in Michigan could have been seen as a beacon of hope for right-to-work supporters. Instead, the ability of lawmakers in the state that is considered the heart of unions makes the inability of supporters to pass the legislation in Pennsylvania a bitter pill to swallow.
"When we see a state like Michigan, that is the home of the United Auto Workers, and their general assembly and their governor, are able to pass right-to-work, it's discouraging to us," Rapp said.
It was also discouraging to right-to-work supporters when Gov. Tom Corbett said last week that there is not the political will in the state to pass that legislation.
"I was dismayed at the governor's statement," Rapp said. "If the governor himself took a lead on this issue, we could have an impact on this state."
She said there is staunch support for right-to-work in the House. "There are the core conservatives in the General Assembly, more in the House than in the Senate," she said. "We are the minority within the majority. That's discouraging."