Salamanders, Hornets, & Bad Political Strategy

By Matthew J. Brouillette.
This piece originally appeared in several news outlets in southeast Pennsylvania. 

Recently, our state House members voted 191-6 to make the Eastern hellbender Pennsylvania’s official state amphibian. Unfortunately, some lawmakers find it easier to stand up for a salamander than for working Pennsylvanians.

For proof, look no further than a commonsense workers’ rights bill currently pending in the Legislature.

Last year in Janus v. AFSCME, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the right of public workers not to pay a union as a condition of employment. In light of that ruling, Rep. Kate Klunk (R-York County) introduced the Employee Rights Notification Act (HB 785)—a simple bill that would ensure workers know their rights and bring Pennsylvania state law in line with the court’s ruling.

This bill should be an easy lift. But many of the same lawmakers willing to endorse a hellbender are hell-bent against endorsing Rep. Klunk’s notification bill. Their reasoning was best summed up by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), who stated regarding the notification bill, “It’s like whacking a hornet’s nest. I don’t see why we need to pile on to that [Janus] decision.”

The groups being compared to angry hornets are none other than the very groups that supposedly champion workers’ rights: government unions, which oppose the legislation. As for “piling on” the Janus decision, lawmakers fear further upsetting these “hornets” that are already upset at losing their unconstitutional ability to extract forced fees from non-members.

This fear is telling for several reasons.

First, it reveals government unions have “stingers”, which as anyone who follows Pennsylvania politics knows is the massive amounts of money public sector unions use to advance their political agenda and influence lawmakers. A recent Commonwealth Foundation analysis of political spending during the 2018 election cycle showed government unions were far and away the largest political spenders at more than $17.2 million.

This is more than double the second-biggest special-interest spender: trial lawyers, at nearly $8.4 million. And it dwarfed groups the Left loves to malign: natural gas ($2.38 million), energy ($1.49 million), and gun owners ($734,238).

Second, it shows some lawmakers’ fear of upsetting government union leaders outweighs their belief that workers should be informed of their rights.

Third—and perhaps most ironically—it suggests a handful of Republican lawmakers missed the lesson of 2018; namely, government unions will gladly sting Republican lawmakers who vote for union interests if it means the chance to get a Democrat into office.

Indeed, many of the Republicans who lost in last year’s Blue Wave—particularly in Southeast PA—tried a strategy of union appeasement. Former Reps. Alex Charlton, Becky Corbin, Kate Harper, Jamie Santora, and Tom Quigley all voted with government union interests. It didn’t save them on Election Day, as they all became electoral targets—and casualties—of government-union-funded opposition.

Standing up for workers’ rights may, indeed, be analogous to ‘whacking a hornets’ nest.’ But that’s a flimsy reason to stay seated.

As everyone knows (everyone, it seems, except a few lawmakers), if you have a hornets’ nest near your home stinging your kids, you remove it. You don’t just leave it and hope the hornets will have a change of heart and stop stinging in the future. And while it’s true that hornets will retaliate if you go after them, that’s no excuse for letting them rule your home—or dictate your vote.

Thankfully, while some run the other way, there are lawmakers willing to buy enough Raid® to soak the hornets’ nest. These are the leaders fighting to inform workers of their rights. And these are the champions working Pennsylvanians deserve.

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Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs and host of Brews & Views.