By Bill Pounds

and Hugh Giordano

In April, union-heavy West Virginia became the 26th right-to-work state in the country, leading some to wonder if Pennsylvania would soon follow. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives wasted no time introducing a package of six bills designed to make this thought a reality. Passing these bills would be a mistake for working people and business owners alike.

At their most basic level, unions exist as a way to protect employees, considering that corporate interests begin with all the bargaining power. When employees unionize, they help level the playing field in labor-management relations. However, it is important that union leaders and business owners work together. All too often, union workers strike as a result of a breakdown in negotiations with the company leadership. Labor shutdowns, the worst possible outcome of contract disputes, should be avoided. Issues should be settled at the negotiating table to the benefit of businesses and workers.

The Supreme Court, in Ford Motor Co. v. Huffman (1953), extended the duty of fair representation established in Steele v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad (1944) to unions covered under the National Labor Relations Act, mandating that a union must "make an honest effort to serve the interest of all ... without hostility to any." Under Miranda Fuel Co. (1962), unfair representation of any employee, regardless of union membership, constitutes an unfair labor practice.

These court cases opened the door for nonunion employees to reap the benefits of union membership - collective bargaining, legal representation - without paying dues. The duty of fair representation creates a free-rider problem, and right-to-work legislation encourages new employees to take advantage of this gap in equity between dues-paying union members and nonunion employees. We believe this is wrong, and right-to-work legislation would only exacerbate the problem.

Moving forward, there are two paths: Reverse the legal precedent set forth in Ford, Steele, and Miranda and then pass right-to-work; or maintain the current approach, in which, at the minimum, all employees pay union dues but may opt out of union activities while still enjoying the benefits bargained for by the union.

Following the first path makes it clear that employees who do not pay dues will not be protected under a collective bargaining agreement, and the union will not have to represent them in any manner. This arrangement will leave workers as at-will employees and guarantee them only basic protections while insulating the union from unfair-labor-practice charges.

The duty of fair representation was established by the court system to prevent discrimination. At the time, unions frequently barred employees from membership based on race, religion, creed, and other characteristics. It would be nearly impossible to remove a court-instituted protection for minority groups, and, frankly, this second path is the less favorable path of the two. We should be able to keep these safeguards from discrimination in place while maintaining worker protections and removing the gap in equity between union members and nonunion employees.

Without right-to-work, employees would pay dues, receive the benefits of union membership, and choose whether or not to be involved in the union. Legislators as well as business owners should support an employee's right to unionize and acknowledge that union representation provides necessary protections to workers.

Workers may decide not to unionize. However, for businesses where employees do choose to organize, right-to-work laws have no place in Pennsylvania.

Bill Pounds is the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania's 194th House District.

Hugh Giordano is a union organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 152.