OPED: As we prepare to celebrate Labor Day ...

Judith Higgins
Lower Windsor Township

Marking the last weekend of summer, Labor Day has become more about barbecues and shopping than the holiday envisioned in the late 1800s — as a means of honoring and recognizing union workers.

While celebrating, thank unions for many things we take for granted today, like the 40-hour work week; breaks at work; workplace safety standards; family, medical and military leave; workers’ compensation; child labor laws; minimum wage; paid vacations and holidays.

It’s rather disingenuous when state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, expresses “concern” for public sector workers, writing in a recent op-ed that these workers should know their rights regarding unions and what’s at stake after Janus v. AFSCME.

Klunk and her Republican cohorts from York County, including state Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township — my opponent for the state Senate District 28 seat — are parading out House Bill 2571. Alleging to show they have the back of Pennsylvania’s public sector workers, it encourages removal of financial support for unions, while still benefiting from their collective bargaining. 

It is not difficult to conclude that unions, if drained of funding, will struggle to exist.

There’s a strong chance this legislation will hit teachers hardest, a field dominated by women. Educators, a recently identified target for reduction by gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner, make up 51 percent of all state and local government workers, with elementary and secondary school workers comprising 40 percent.

Klunk and crew cheer that this bill gives workers the freedom of speech to choose whether they want to support a union’s political activity. But it actually undermines workers’ rights by threatening the fiscal viability of public sector unions.

The union agency, or fair share fees paid by non-members, contribute to the cost of administering and defending all employees covered by collective-bargaining agreements.

Margie Kyprianov of Shrewsbury, left, meets Judith Higgins, candidate for the PA Senate District 28, during a meet and greet event for Higgins at Seven Sports Bar and Grille in New Freedom Tuesday, July 17, 2018. Higgins, a Democrat, is facing Republican Kristin Phillips-Hill in the November midterm election. Bill Kalina photo

These fees are not used to fund political activity. In fact, it is illegal to use union dues for lobbying efforts.

Klunk proclaims that public sector unions spent more than $114 million lobbying over the past 10 years. Stack that against the $2.6 billion a year spent by corporations, pushing policies most favorable to corporations, according to the Congressional Research Service.

An April 20, 2015, article in The Atlantic, “How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy,” cited that the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 represent business.

It also reported that for every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups combined, large corporations and their associations spend $34 (and that was three years ago).

How are Rep. Klunk and her allies looking out for you? Where is the balance in policies that work for all?

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The irony is that this bill Klunk proudly proclaims she authored is a template in a series of cookie-cutter initiatives developed by corporate lobby groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council that are being pushed through statehouses nationwide.

This type of legislation does not come from local state officials, but rather economic and policy agendas fueled by national corporate lobbies aimed at reducing wages and labor standards across the country.

Cloaked in clever names like “right to work,” these anti-worker policies shift a greater share of economic gains to corporate players, away from ordinary workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

As union membership has declined during the past few decades, the share of income going to the top 10 percent has steadily climbed. The erosion of collective bargaining is a core part of our nation’s problems of wage stagnation and rising inequality.

In a June 15, 2018, article for The American Prospect, Celine McNicholas and Heidi Sierholz wrote that the core of the Janus case is “whether a group of wealthy donors and corporations will be allowed to rewrite our nation’s rules to serve their own interests at the expense of the public good.”

The reality is that unions improve the overall quality of life in a community. With good, safe working conditions, appropriate training and the ability to work collaboratively, businesses and labor unions can create higher incomes for the entire community.

Unions are not the enemy of the middle class, but rather the champions. When unions are present, employees have a voice, safer working conditions, employment security, dignity and a livable wage, as well as retirement and health benefits for their members.  

When elected this November, I will do what Klunk, Phillips-Hill and the whole lot of Republicans in Harrisburg have failed to do — stand up for our constituents, the government workers and taxpayers.

I am fighting for policies that will benefit all stakeholders to thrive, not just survive.

Judith Higgins is a candidate for state Senate in the 28th District.