We hear a lot of the word ‘fairness’ in Pennsylvania policy debates. But what does it mean? For business leaders, fairness means having a sense of what to expect so they can plan for the future; being able to operate without a constant, looming threat of frivolous litigation; competing on an equal playing field and having the time and financial freedom to hire and grow. The PA Chamber is working on all fronts to ensure that employers can proceed with confidence, and a big part of this means ensuring that the state’s labor laws are fair to both employers and their workers.
One recent example of how we’re working to accomplish this is through our advocacy on a bill to ban project labor agreements in the Commonwealth. A project labor agreement requires companies to commit to use unionized labor as a prerequisite to be considered for work on a public construction project. These types of policies tilt the playing field in favor of union workers, as they force non-union companies to either forgo bidding on the project altogether or hire workers from a union hall rather than allow their own employees to do work on the job. They are a prime example of the unfairness in Pennsylvania labor laws that we are targeting to change.
In addition to working on reforms to the labor laws that are already in place, we’re also fighting back against new proposals that would hurt Pennsylvania’s employers, its workers and its overall economic competitiveness. Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf announced plans to change the Commonwealth’s overtime eligibility rules for employees, by requiring a wage threshold that is more than double the federal government’s current rate. Much like other government mandates on the private sector, this would only have a negative impact on employment and ultimately hurt many of the workers it’s intended to help – particularly among small businesses – by forcing companies to shift their employees from earning a salary to being paid by the hour, which gives them less flexibility and fewer training opportunities and benefits.
The PA Chamber is also urging lawmakers to enact updates to Pennsylvania’s incredibly outdated prevailing wage laws, which increase the cost of projects so sharply that many of them end up being shelved or not completed at all.
As Pennsylvania’s business community grapples with so many long-term efforts to move the needle toward fairness in labor laws, other states – more than half, in fact– have meanwhile made the transition to become Right to Work states. This means that they are states that give workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union by making employment no longer conditional upon union membership or paying union dues. Taking this one step has made Right to Work states incredibly competitive for a simple reason—employers feel that they have the flexibility and freedom to negotiate terms of employment. As more and more states adopt these policies for the economic benefits they provide, the PA Chamber is determined to continue our wide-ranging efforts to raise the confidence among Pennsylvania employers and would-be investors, which will in turn yield a brighter economic future for all.