No one, management or labor, should be able to lawfully use the tactics of harassment, stalking or threatening. What starts as harassment and threats can escalate to violence and destruction of property. But incredibly, people who are engaged in organized labor disputes – things like strikes or negotiations over work conditions – are exempt from these criminal laws that apply to the rest of us.
That’s why, earlier this session, I introduced vital legislation to prohibit harassment, stalking or making threats by parties involved in a labor dispute. And I was extremely pleased when it recently passed through the House.
Our current laws perpetuate a potential cycle of labor disputes turning into violent situations. In order to change this culture, we must first change the laws. The public puts its faith in law enforcement and the judiciary to fairly interpret laws against harassment and stalking and assess cases in every facet of society. Labor disputes should not be held to a different standard.
Recent examples of this behavior have been brought to the forefront with federal indictments and convictions related to the December 2012 burning and vandalism of a Quaker meetinghouse construction site in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Over the past two years, various incidents have been brought to my attention that made it impossible for me to ignore this safety concern.
One such incident was described during a hearing that the Judiciary Committee held last legislative session by testifier Sarina Rose, vice president of development for Post Brothers Apartments. She outlined an instance where a project that Post Brothers was working on was significantly interfered with by the Building Trades Council and construction labor unions. The head of the local building trades council insisted that Post Brothers commit to 100 percent union contractors for the project. When they refused, violent protests by the union workers ensued, which included intimidation and harassment in the form of physical abuse of on-site contractors, smashed cars, flattened tires, etc.
This kind of behavior is simply unacceptable. Employers who make a decision to hire non-union workers have every right to do so. Additionally, non-union workers hired to do work for these employers have a right to work at these sites safely.
House Bill 874 would not impact unions engaged in lawful disputes or protests. However, both labor and management would have to live by the same rules – the same criminal law – that everyone else lives by in Pennsylvania.
The labor community in Pennsylvania includes many unions that represent their members effectively, honorably and peacefully. But there is also a dark side to the labor community that uses intimidation and threats to pursue its objectives. These threats may never be prosecuted. As a result, a culture of violence has taken root where these abusive practices are accepted as a fact of life. Very few union members would ever be affected by this bill if it passes into law, because the overwhelming majority of union members advocate for themselves lawfully. But for those few who use criminal methods, they should be subject to criminal penalties.
Law enforcement organization have come out in overwhelming support of the bill, including the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association. In addition, manufacturing and contracting groups support the legislation, including the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association; Pennsylvania Builders Association; Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry; National Federation of Independent Business – Pennsylvania; Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., Keystone Chapter; Pennsylvania Business Council; and Pennsylvania Council of General Contractors.
This is a real problem that impacts public safety and business competitiveness and requires a simple solution – close the loopholes and eliminate the exemptions. House Bill 874 moved on to the Senate and it is my sincere hope that they will continue to move this bill quickly so that we can begin the process of changing the culture, ensuring Pennsylvania workers are safer and more secure at the workplace, and at home.
Representative Ronald Marsico
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Autumn R. Southard, 717.652.3721