Angry about legislation aimed at stopping the state from deducting union dues from most public employees, about 20 protesters -- led by One Pittsburgh -- rallied outside the Cranberry Township office of state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R).
Fresh off a loss over state Voter ID MetCalfe, and his House State Government Committee are charged with moving the "paycheck protection" bill through the legislature and into the hands of Gov. Tom Corbett who has promised to sign it. Those in attendance this morning — along with this excellent piece on the subject from the Patriot-News' John L. Micek — say the legislation is yet another attack on workers and unions.
"Extremist Metcalfe represent no one apart from the handful of millionaires who fund his campaigns," said John Lacny of SEIU. "Metcalfe's unconstitutional attempt to take away people's right to vote failed earlier this month when a judge ruled that the unconstitutional voter harassment bill couldn't stand.
"Metcalfe is angry about this, so now he's trying to take away working families' freedom of association."
Members of Metcalfe's office staff -- which is located in the Cranberry Township Municipal Complex -- opened the representative's doors but told protesters he was "unavailable at this time and we don't give the whereabouts of the representative."
Asked one protester, "Oh, are the Koch brothers in town today?" referring to the billionaire industrialists who are known to give large sums of money to conservative candidates most famously through the PACs FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.
To that, Metcalfe's aide responded, "He was aware you were coming today. We were all aware you were coming today." The aide denied, however, that Metcalfe avoided the office because of the protest.
Rita Treager, a nurse at a county-run Westmoreland County nursing home, says her union affiliation has made it possible to collectively bargain for things like staffing levels that help ensure patient safety. She says the pending bill is "a slap in the face to any progress we have been able to make as a community."
Republican sponsors of the bill say intent of the bill is to merely save taxpayer funds that are going to the collection of union dues — a portion of which goes to political activity.
"Critics of the bill have recently launched opposition attacks lumping the legislation into a “war on workers.” This is not a war on workers; this is a push for fairness for all organizations who have a voice in the political discussion," writes state Rep. Bryan Cutler on his website. "Currently, public employee unions can collect dues directly out of paychecks with no questions asked. A portion of that money is spent on political activity, and there is a clear issue with any portion of public funds being used to collect money for political gains. For me, the entire bill is about one fundamental question: Should government stop collecting political money?"
But as Micek points out in the Patriot-News piece, the bill "gives a pass to cops and firefighters, whose unions are smaller, and, let’s face it, tend to endorse Republican candidates."
That's not a fact lost on Treager, who says it's odd that those unions are exempt while those representing teachers and nurses are not.
"I think it's ironic that they left police and firefighter unions out of this but include the unions representing nurses and teachers who take care of some of the most vulnerable citizens," Treager says. "This is a tactic to weaken us as a group. I think this is just the first big step to come after workers' rights to collectively bargain, and that's wrong."