In Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has chosen to fight a budget battle and engage in a playing field-altering confrontation with his state's labor unions at the same time. Here in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has decided to fight the budget battle first. But, to ultimately fix the structural budget deficit, he must also fundamentally alter the commonwealth's relationship with public sector labor unions.
Unions in Wisconsin have capitulated to Governor Walker on many of the financial issues involved in their stand-off. But, they have dug in over so-called collective bargaining rights. That is because collective bargaining by public sector unions is what gives them an unfair advantage in contract negotiations.
It is wrong to think of collective bargaining as a right. It is not a right. It is a privilege. It is privilege that essentially gives unions the ability to dictate the terms of their own contracts. Governor Walker understands the power of collective bargaining which is why he wants to limit such privileges to give state, county and municipal governments a more level playing field.
But, let's spot the unions a big one. Let's not talk about taking away their collective bargaining privileges. Instead, let us simply demand equal rights for everyone. Since the unions are so vocal in support of their "rights," we should expect they would be amenable to support and honor the rights of others.
The next battle should be to give all Pennsylvanians the right to work. Governor Tom Corbett has said he would sign a Right to Work law if it made it to his desk. Republicans hold large majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. Since the GOP is supposedly the party of individual rights and free enterprise, there will never be a better time for passing a Right to Work law.
Simply put a Right to Work law would give every Pennsylvanian the right to hold whatever job he or she chooses without being compelled to join or pay so-called "fair share" fees to a labor union. Compulsory unionism is un-American on its face, and on the practical level, makes Penn's Woods uncompetitive when it comes to attracting new businesses and jobs.
Republican leadership in the General Assembly, often elected with thousands in union campaign contributions, has been reluctant to support or bring a Right to Work law to the floor for a vote. But, Pennsylvanians are angry at state government overspending and the rampant corruption which has plagued the legislature. Voters and taxpayers are demanding action; not just band aide fixes, but real structural reforms.
There is strong public support for enactment of a Right to Work law. Over a 16 year period the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research has asked Pennsylvania voters whether or not they support a Right to Work law. They have consistently supported such a law by a two-two one margin. In the most recent poll 56% backed a Right to Work law, while just 30% are in opposition. In surveys of business owners, enactment of a Right to Work law is viewed as a necessary structural change to make Pennsylvania competitive with other states.
Governor Corbett should give unions an option: accept enactment of a Right to Work law, or cede your collective bargaining privileges. Unions, of course, will accept neither. But the time has come to stop letting labor unions — which represent a diminished and shrinking percentage of the work force — dictate the terms of public policy.
It is also time for the Republicans who now control state government to stand up and be counted. Last November taxpayers voted for change. The GOP was given the power to enact change. If that power is not put to use, then Republicans will have no argument for being returned to office the next time they face voters.
Labor unions argue they have the right to band together and bargain collectively. If that is true so is the reverse: individuals have the right to work without being forced against their will to join or pay fees to a union to which they do not wish to belong.
It is time to level the playing field.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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