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Politics & Government

Softened Changes For Union Exemption On 'Fast Track'

A state proposal to change rules for unions involved in a labor dispute is on the fast track to becoming law.

Under state law, unions in Pennsylvania are allowed to harass, stalk, and threaten to use weapons of mass destruction if they’re involved in a labor dispute.

Legislation that started as an effort to end that exemption now just kind of massages it.

A Senate committee on Tuesday approved changes to allow stalking and harassment if it is used in the pursuit of constitutionally-protected or legally-protected activity.

“This bill stops inappropriate conduct on both the part of unions and management,” said Sen. Daylin Leach (R-Montgomery). “This isn’t an attempt to stop working people from expressing their constitutionally protected rights.”

Leo Knepper, director of the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, which has pushed to end the exemption, said his only concern would be that federally protected behavior for unions is a somewhat broad category.

“I guess I’ll have to see,” Knepper said.

Threats to use weapons of mass destruction would be the only thing explicitly not allowed under the language approved by committee.

“My guess is people thought that if you’re threatening to use weapon of mass destruction, there’s really no protection for you,” said Gregg Warner, executive director of the Senate Judiciary panel. “You really shouldn’t be doing that.”

The exemption change has been opposed by a leading labor union that said it would trample on union activity protected under federal law. But supporters say the exemption allowing harassment and related offenses could give rise to behavior that’s actually criminal.

The measure’s speedy progress comes two months after federal charges were filed against a Philadelphia union that allegedly set fire to a building to coerce a contractor to hire union workers.

“I think it’s on a little bit of a fast track,” said Warner.

The bill is expected to receive final votes in the Senate and House by the end of next week.