HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pennsylvania legislature is more conservative than it was a year ago, and it’s reflected in its early priorities.
Conservatives this week are pushing the three P’s; privatization to get the state out of the booze business, paycheck protection to get the state out of the dues business, and pension reform to reduce the state’s $50 billion liability.
Unions hate all three. It’s fair to say they’re a p-word: perturbed.
“Absolutely, we’re under assault, they’re going after us,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of Pennsylvania’s AFL-CIO. “We’re the only ones fighting to get a share of productivity into our wages to make sure people can live a middle-class lifestyle. There are folks who want to accumulate that wealth just for themselves and leave all the rest of us in the poor house. We’re not gonna stand for that. We’re gonna fight it every step of the way.”
As part of the fight, unions have increased their presence in Harrisburg. Lobbyists and advocates are flooding the Capitol. They even sent an ominous looking letter to lawmakers reminding them that unions are watching votes on union issues. The letter could be seen as intimidation, but Bloomingdale defends it.
“We elect them. If we don’t watch them, we’re not being vigilant. We’re not being good citizens,” he said.
Conservative Senator Scott Wagner (R-York) got one of the letters. He blew it up, put it on poster board and placed it on an easel outside his door. He wrote at the top, mockingly, “Really?”
“This is, in a humorous way, stalking to a certain degree,” Wagner said.
He didn’t seem intimidated.
“They can watch me all they want,” he said. “If they have that much time just to watch me, that’s great. That means they’re not too busy.”
Wagner is the prime pusher of paycheck protection, which would stop the state from automatically deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks and handing over the cash to unions. It’s a common practice and was collectively bargained in negotiations. Wagner says the state shouldn’t do the union’s dirty work and should force them to collect from each member – if that member wants to pay.
The unions are watching for lawmakers who support paycheck protection. Wagner is watching for lawmakers who don’t. Wagner’s legend was born when he became the first state senator to win a write-in election in Pennsylvania history. It expanded when he financed Camera Bartolotta, who upset longtime western Pennsylvania lawmaker Tim Solobay in November. It became mythical when the upstart from York County helped to topple longtime Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware).
Sources tell ABC 27 there are many lawmakers who fear that if they don’t vote Wagner’s way, he’ll find the next Bartolotta and fund them to victory. We’re told even Democrats, who should be expected to oppose Wagner’s conservative views, are worried about his power.
I asked Wagner if he’s not employing the same type of pressure/intimidation as the unions?
“Sure,” he admits with a pause, “but I don’t go around handing out fliers saying ‘I’m watching you.’ “
“He’s a bully,” Bloomingdale said of Wagner. “And he uses his money to bully people.”
So the Republicans’ three P’s will be proposed, but will they pass?
“The majority in the legislature is trying to mark their territory for budget negotiations with the governor,” said Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery). “Keep in mind they didn’t pass any of this when they had a Republican governor who would’ve signed this. The current governor will not be signing any of these things.”