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Who's next?

Published December 14. 2012 05:04PM

The fact that Michigan became the 24th state to approve right-to-work legislation on Tuesday leaves many wondering which state's union might be challenged next.

Labor unions in Pennsylvania have so far been able to steady their ship, unlike other Rust Belt states.

Gov. Tom Corbett feels that this state doesn't have the kind of political will it takes to become a right to work state. Commenting on the Michigan developments, Corbett said that a similar movement in this state would require a great deal of ground work, and be dependant on politics at the local and county levels, as well as what party controls state government.

"Until I see a strong will to get legislation passed, we have a lot of other things that we have to get passed," Corbett said in his recent interview.

Those words did not reassure Leo Knepper, Executive Director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a conservative group focused on curbing union influence. He feels that state unions have effectively been able to convince politicians that right-to-work is a dead issue in Pennsylvania, despite that fact that a majority of voters and business owners polled say they are against forced unionization.

Knepper said that unfortunately, politicians seem more afraid of the unions than the taxpayers.

One thing that the Michigan story showed us is how fast legislation can move when a party controls the state house as well as the governor's seat. Gov. Rick Snyder hadn't considered right-to-wpork a priority but after it sailed through Michigan's Republican-held legislature, it took just hours for him to sign the measure. For this to occur in a state known as the cradle of organized labor is a bitter pill for unions to swallow.

Michigan's unions claimed that the bill spelled disaster for worker rights and benefits. Even President Obama weighed in on the issue, telling his pro-union audience earlier in the week that this was all about politics and that right-to-work actually translates to working for less money.

The governor, meanwhile, countered that the bill is actually "pro-worker" and paves the way for his state to become competitive in attracting more and better jobs.

Other proponents claimed that it all comes down to freedom of choice with workers now able to decide whether they want to give money to unions, previously a requirement for employment. Some workers obviously balked at the idea of their dues going to fund pro-union Democratic political candidates, including Obama.

While the union dominoes continue to fall, Pennsylvania's opposition, spearheaded by the state's AFL-CIO, remains a force. Frank Snyder, secretary-treasurer of the state organization, argued that there's no evidence to suggest that passing right to work would encourage companies to move to the state and that states with strong unions perform better across the board.

It is a certainty that the right-to-work issue will remain volatile. After the Michigan law was passed, Douglas Geis, a Democratic legislator, predicted "there will be blood."

It didn't take long for the street protests to produce some ugly scenes outside the statehouse in Lansing.

Some pro-Union thugs shouting obscenities trampled a tent set up by Americans for Prosperity, which included women and elderly.

With their ranks thinning, this is not the kind of public image and media coverage that the crippled labor movement wants to see.

By Jim Zbick

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