Fundamental right or big business ploy?
On Tuesday, six Republican members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives held a joint press conference announcing the reintroduction of a package of so-called "right to work" bills which failed to pass during the 2011-2012 legislative session.
The bills largely deal with fair share fees, the fees which can be, but are not required to be, implemented as a result of a contract agreement between a representative of a collective bargaining unit, or union, and an employer and require employees who choose not to join the union to pay for the representation the union provides to all employees.
The six state representatives: Kathy Rapp (R-Warren/Forest/McKean), Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), Jim Cox (R-Berks), Fred Keller (R-Union/Snyder) and Jerry Knowles (R-Berks/Schuylkill); along with representatives of a number of private interest groups, heralded the bills as "an independence day for Pennsylvania."
The group called requiring fair share fees "anti-American" and "anti-freedom."
One of those bills, House Bill 51 of the 2011-2012 legislative session, aims to eliminate fair share fees for union representing school employees. The bill, sponsored by Rapp, would amend Act 84 of 1988 to disallow fair share fees in contracts between unions and school districts, intermediate units and vocational-technical schools.
One school district in which fair share fees are a part of the current contract mutually agreed upon between the local union and the district is the Warren County School District, and not everyone agrees freedom is the bill's goal.
"Fair share fees are only implemented if the employer agrees to that provision through negotiations," Warren County Education Association President Claudia Solinko said.
She also pointed out the fees are limited to what is required to pay for actual services rendered. "Fair share fees represent only that percentage of cost that goes directly to the service non-members receive," she said.
Further, under Act 84, non-members must be provided with documentation of the usage of the fees and can file grievance through an independent arbitrator to contest the fee.
Section 2215(d) of the act reads, "As a precondition to the collection of fair share fees, the exclusive representative shall establish and maintain a full and fair procedure, consistent with constitutional requirements, that provides non-members, by way of annual notice, with sufficient information to gauge the propriety of the fee and that responds to challenges by non-members to the amount of the fee. The procedure shall provide for an impartial hearing before an arbitrator to resolve disputes regarding the amount of the chargeable fee."
"Nowhere in Pennsylvania do we have compulsive membership," Solinko said. "The reason we have the option to negotiate fair share fees with the employer is because the union is legally mandated to provide services to every single employee in the bargaining unit, whether they are union or not."
Non-union members who are still a part of the broader employee group a union represents are considered members of the overall collective bargaining unit.
House Bill 51 does contain a provision letting unions off the hook for representing non-members, unless it conflicts with the requirements of an employee organization under Section 606 of the Public Employee Relations Act of 1970. Unions qualify as an employee organization under the law.
Specifically, the act reads, "Notwithstanding the provisions of section 606 of the act of July 23, 1970, known as the Public Employee Relations Act, or any other law to the contrary, an employee organization acting as an exclusive representative in any school district, intermediate unit or vocational-technical school shall owe no duty to and shall have no obligation to represent any employee of a school district, intermediate unit or vocational-technical school who is not a member of the employee organization in any grievance or other proceeding filed with or against the school district, intermediate unit or vocational-technical school."
Section 606 of the act, however, limits the scope of negotiations an individual member of a collective bargaining unit can take on their own and requires an employee organization to represent members of the unit who don't take action themselves.
The section reads, "Representatives selected by public employees in a unit appropriate for collective bargaining purposes shall be the exclusive representative of all the employees in such unit to bargain on wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment: Provided, that any individual employee or a group of employees shall have the right at any time to present grievances to their employer and to have them adjusted without the intervention of the bargaining representative as long as the adjustment is not inconsistent with the terms of a collective bargaining contract then in effect: And, provided further, that the bargaining representative has been given an opportunity to be present at such adjustment."
However, the bill would remove current provisions requiring unions to represent non-members in grievance, arbitration and similar proceedings.
In a press release following the press conference, Rapp said the bundle of laws, known as the Pennsylvania Open Workforce Initiative was, "Designed to protect the individual freedoms of Pennsylvania's working citizens and energize the economy by ending the practice of compulsory unionism."
Solinko disagreed with freedom being the motivating factor behind the bills, "This is just another attempt to weaken the rights of lower and middle class workers in order to pad the pockets of the large corporations that funnel money to politicians."
Administration at the Warren County School District could not be reached for comment on the bill.