Public Union Strike Votes Would Include Nonmembers Under Pa. Bill (2)

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By Leslie A. Pappas

Public-sector unions in Pennsylvania that want to call a strike would need to allow workers who aren’t members to participate in the decision under a bill introduced in the Pennsylvania House.

House Bill No. 2586 would require public-sector unions to conduct a vote by secret ballot and win approval from a majority of all employees in a collective bargaining unit to authorize a strike.

“I’m concerned about financial fallout on people who are both union members and non-members when possibly only a small number of union members make the decision,” Rep. Cris Dush (R), the bill’s sponsor, told Bloomberg Law Aug. 8. Before taking office, Dush was a public-sector union employee for about 20 years, most recently as a state corrections officer at three prisons across the state, he said.

The bill is among the ripple effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 Janus v. AFSCME decision, which found that forcing nonunion members to pay “fair share” fees violates their First Amendment free speech rights.

Almost half of government workers in Pennsylvania are union members and the state leads the nation in teacher strikes, according to the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank.

HB 2586 would amend the state’s Public Employee Relations Act (Act 195 of 1970), which already authorizes public employees to strike if collective bargaining hits a wall. It doesn’t, however, specify how the labor organization authorizes its leadership to announce the strike.

“With no statutory guidance, it is left to each labor organization’s constitution how its membership is to authorize a strike,” Dush said in a memo accompanying his legislation. As a result, there is no consistency as to whether votes that are taken include all members of the bargaining unit or just members of the union, he said. “I believe that the legislature needs to protect the rights of all employees in a collective bargaining unit by ensuring that they all have a fair opportunity to vote, without intimidation, on whether to authorize a strike.”

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents 181,000 teachers and support staff in almost a thousand local associations throughout the state, said it had no position yet on the bill because it was just introduced.

Whether one of PSEA’s locals requires a secret vote would depend on the constitution and bylaws of that particular association, PSEA spokesman David Broderic told Bloomberg Law Aug. 8.

“By current law, our locals are not required to have a secret ballot” and nonunion members are usually not authorized to vote on a strike, he said.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association, a nonprofit, statewide association of public school boards that represents nearly 5,000 public school leaders, expressed support for the measure.

“We support the bill, and the intent of the maker,” PSBA spokeswoman Annette Gray told Bloomberg Law in an email Aug. 8 “The requirement of a secret ballot vote removes the influence of peer pressure on a strike authorization. It’s a step in the right direction, as part of a bigger collective bargaining reform.”

The bill was introduced and referred to the committee on labor and industry Aug. 7.

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