House votes to change labor dispute harassment rules

By on March 19, 2014
State Representative Steve Mentzer

Pennsylvania has several unique laws on the books that unfairly favor organized labor. Some of these laws give a free pass to certain types of harassment in labor disputes. This kind of behavior is unacceptable under any circumstance, which is why I co-sponsored and recently voted in favor of a bill that would stop enabling labor dispute violence.

This issue was brought to the forefront after some disturbing headlines from the Philadelphia area highlighted the need to close a legal loophole that currently exists in the Commonwealth.

Last month, allegations against ten members of Ironworkers Local 401 arose from a racketeering conspiracy case. Federal prosecutors alleged that these union members used violent intimidation tactics to retaliate against companies that chose to use non-union workers. According to the indictment report, the individuals arrested coordinated campaigns of sabotage and extortion, urging members to picket, threaten and destroy property over the past three years. They targeted sites ranging from a Quaker meeting house in Chestnut Hill to a toy store in King of Prussia, and used tools such as acetylene torches, baseball bats, knives, crowbars and bolt cutters to make their point.

While I would stress that the individuals charged are innocent until proven guilty, just the mere allegations in this case were reason enough to consider legislation that had been pending before the House.

The reform effort, House Bill 1154, would remove the exemptions in sections of the state Crimes Code that currently permit harassment, stalking and threatening use of a weapon of mass destruction in labor disputes as defined in the Labor Anti-Injunction Act.

This bill is not an anti-union piece of legislation. It would also apply if the tables were turned and union members became targets of harassment by opposition.

The right of individuals and groups to peacefully protest against an employer is certainly something we can all respect, but there are too many instances where individuals have crossed the line. Cases like the one in Philadelphia are not the sole reason why House Bill 1154 should become law, but they serve as a frightening reminder of what an individual or group could legally get away with if immediate action to close this loophole is not taken.

House Bill 1154 recently passed the House on a vote of 115-74, and now awaits consideration by the Senate.

Steven C. Mentzer, of LancasterCounty, was elected to represent the citizens of the 97th Legislative District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Before his election to office, Mentzer served as the treasurer of ManheimTownship. He has also been heavily involved in a variety of humanitarian efforts, both locally and globally, since 2006. Visit repmentzer.com.

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