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Pa. stuck in the 1930's where labor unions are concerned

Ironworkers Local 401
Ironworkers Local 401
Villanova Law Library (CC)

In 1937, Pennsylvania enacted a law to protect the activities of union organizers, giving them an exemption from being prosecuted for harassment. At the time, it was an important move that helped workers organize, to fight for safe workplaces and decent wages. However, times have changed more than a little since then.

Thanks to federal laws and regulations from OSHA and other relevant agencies, it is difficult for business owners to operate with patently unsafe work conditions. There are inherently dangerous jobs, but employers must do what they can to mitigate hazards, or run the risk of owing fines or being shut down by the government. That has essentially removed the necessity for unions, at least where worker safety is concerned.

As for negotiating for higher wages, most employers are more concerned with their competition, than with unions. In order to get good workers and low turnover rates, employers tend to offer higher wages and better benefits. There are exceptions, and those companies tend to be targeted by union organizers.

The bottom line is that while in the 1930's workers really needed unions, today the equation has flipped. Unions are actively and aggressively trying to get more workers to become members. This means that they may target companies where employees are already being paid above the regional market rate for their vocations, or that they may attempt to get multiple chances to organize in the same company. And they may also engage in what would normally be considered illegal behavior - harassment, stalking, and issuing threats - to intimidate business owners that don't do what they want.

In Pennsylvania, that is happening today, and is still protected behavior thanks to that 1937 law. And that law has ended up in the spotlight because of union leaders harassing a woman in Philadelphia. reports:

Post Bros. executive Sarina Rose had grown used to troubles at work literally following her home.

During the day, she dodged taunts from union protesters outside the 12th and Wood Streets work site in Philadelphia, where her company was building apartments last year.

After hours, tradesmen snapped photos of her children, 8 and 11, at their bus stop in Abington. They trailed her at weekend sporting events. One union leader loudly cursed at her in front of a packed restaurant and mimicked shooting her.

And under Pennsylvania law, none of it was a crime.

"When you walk in, as a vice president of a company, to a restaurant full of union workers," Municipal Judge Charles Hayden told Rose in court last November, "you're going to hear some things that you should have expected to hear."

Thanks to a little-known provision protecting parties in labor disputes from prosecution for stalking, harassment, and terroristic threats, Rose said, she was left powerless to stop the nearly constant baiting. The men who dogged her at all hours walked free.

Rose was targeted for employing both union and non-union employees. As for the situation with the law, legislators are aware of it, and are preparing to remedy it. State Rep. Ron Miller is backing a bill that will adjust the language of the existing laws to remove the exemption for union members and leaders attempting to organize. The union leaders that were harassing Rose may not have as much time on their hands to bother her, because members of their local have been charged by the Federal government on other charges.

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