By Brendan Fischer on January 31, 2013

Will the Keystone State follow Michigan and attempt to bust the state's unions with help from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its allies?

ALEC Foot Soldier Darryl Metcalfe Proposes So-Called "Right to Work"

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Darryl Metcalfe has introduced so-called "right to work" legislation that would cripple state labor unions by allowing non-union members to free-ride -- benefiting from union representation, including higher wages and benefits, without paying the costs of that representation. For decades, right to work laws were used in southern states to bust unions and keep wages low.

Metcalfe's bill, like the recent Michigan legislation, is strikingly similar to the ALEC "model" Right to Work Act. (See the side-by-side here.)

This comes as no surprise as Metcalfe has been a loyal ALEC foot soldier for many years.

In 2011, he was a chief sponsor of Pennsylvania's voter ID legislation, which very closely tracked the ALEC "model" Voter ID Act. (See the side-by-side here.) Metcalfe was also a key supporter in Pennsylvania of ALEC/NRA-inspired "Stand Your Ground" legislation, which was modeled after the Florida law initially cited to protect George Zimmerman after he shot and killed unarmed Trayvon Martin.

In 2009, Metcalfe introduced the anti-immigrant "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act," which was nearly identical to the infamous Arizona law SB 1070 (largely struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court). Metcalfe actually introduced the bill one month before Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce introduced the legislation in his state, but after members of the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force adopted the legislation as a "model" for states across the country. That task force included representatives of the private prison and private bail industries, both of which stood to profit from increased immigrant detention. That ALEC task force was disbanded last year when its role in promulgating this type of controversial legislation was exposed and firms like Coca-Cola began fleeing the organization.

In addition, Metcalfe founded the anti-immigrant "Legislators for Legal Immigration," part of the nativist John Tanton Network (which has been described as a hate group), and organized a rally to coincide with the 2007 ALEC meeting in Pennsylvania.

In anticipation of that 2007 ALEC conference, Metcalfe and other Pennsylvania legislators made a $50,000 budget appropriation to provide food for the corporate lobbyists and state legislators attending the ALEC meeting. Pennsylvania taxpayers paid $30,450 for roasted chicken breast and $3,000 for cheesecake lollipops, among other expenses.

Proposal Backed by Tea Party Groups AFP and FreedomWorks

Rep. Metcalfe has introduced this union-busting legislation in every session over the past fourteen years. But this time might be different. Republicans control both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature and the governor's seat, as they do in Michigan. Plus, union busting is becoming a top priority of some Tea Party groups with very deep pockets.

"If Michigan, the home to the United Autoworkers Union, can pass Right to Work, it can pass ... here," declared the Pennsylvania chapter of the David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) network. AFP was a key pusher of the union-busting bill in Michigan, conducting a press offensive and engaging in astroturf activities as the bill was rammed through the legislature.

The Tea Party group FreedomWorks has also prioritized anti-union advocacy in 2013, and has published a study purporting to show the effectiveness of similar "paycheck protection" legislation in defunding unions in Pennsylvania.

Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial board provided some high-profile support for the effort when he penned an article on January 25 supporting right to work in Pennsylvania. Moore has long been involved with ALEC. He is listed as an ALEC "scholar" on the organizations website and often speaks at ALEC meetings. He also is the co-author of ALEC's annual "Rich States Poor States" report -- and in his WSJ op-ed, Moore appears to cite his own study to claim the bill is good for state economies (writing "A study by the American Legislative Exchange Council finds that new factories and facilities are much more likely to open in states without forced unionism.")

Moore does not disclose that he authored the report, whose claims have been discredited by economists at Good Jobs First and at academic institutions. The Economic Policy Institute has also specifically rebutted the Rich States Poor States claims about the benefits of right to work, finding that the laws actually correspond with lower wages, fewer benefits and decreased workplace safety. Also worthy of note is the fact that Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp, which owns the Wall Street Journal, is also an ALEC funder.

Bill Is Part of ALEC-Inspired "Open Workforce Initiative" Package

Metcalfe's proposal is part of a package called the "Open Workforce Initiative," where six different legislators have proposed six different iterations of ALEC-inspired anti-union legislation. Four of the six legislators are known ALEC members.

HB 51, 52, and 53 each echo the ALEC "Public Employee Freedom Act," which prohibits unions from collecting dues from non-union members to pay for the costs of representation (HB 51 would apply to public school employees, HB 52 to state workers, and HB 53 to local government workers). HB 54, sponsored by ALEC member Rep. Jerry Knowles, is nearly identical to Metcalfe's right to work bill, but would only apply to the private sector. HB 250 is Pennsylvania-specific legislation that would amend the labor relations code to allow teachers to drop their union membership at any time.

Union membership is at its lowest level since the 1930s, but anti-union legislation has found renewed energy since Republicans achieved new majorities in statehouses across the country after the 2010 elections. These efforts are motivated by more than just "workplace freedom." The U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to unlimited fundraising and spending from Super PACs and dark money groups, which have overwhelmingly supported Republicans. Unions have provided one of the few counterweights to the corporate and special interest money on the right. By weakening and defunding unions, the relative influence of right-wing donors over elections and politicians is greatly increased.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said in December 2012 he doesn't expect to see right to work pass in Pennsylvania. But Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was similarly lukewarm until December, when pushed by groups like AFP he put his support behind the legislation and signed it into law after passing in a lame duck session.

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.