Among the more interesting developments that occurred at today’s worker press conference on payroll dues deduction came as a result of an unexpectedly organic turnout of workers that far exceeded the organizers’ own estimates. The rotunda overflowed as over 2,000 union members turned out to protest against insidious new paycheck deception bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature. At least two spontaneous rallies broke out to accommodate the overflow crowds that didn’t make it into the Capitol Rotunda.
One of the rallies erupted outside the front doors of the Capitol, where over a thousand workers were literally frozen out of the event in the nearly sub-zero temperatures because Capitol police claimed the crowd had exceeded capacity limitations in the Rotunda. PA AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder was handed a bull horn by Capitol Police and the nearly frost-bitten crowd had their own impromptu rally on the Capitol steps as Snyder explained the implications of the Koch brother’s-inspired anti-labor legislation.
“The supporters of this attack claim this is all about restoring ethics to government,” Snyder told the crowd. “If this were all about restoring ethics then perhaps they would stop trying to prevent the uninsured from gaining access to affordable health care. If this were about ethics they would support raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits to unemployed workers whom are still looking for a job. No this isn’t about ethics this is all about distractions, more smoke and mirrors and playing political games instead of solving our problems: creating jobs, expanding the middle class and putting Pennsylvania back to work. We won’t be fooled,” Snyder added.
Members of faith communities, municipal police officers and firefighters who are exempted from the bill; teachers, school security workers and support staff; bus and truck drivers; and elected leaders filled the Capitol rotunda to support and hear from school, healthcare and public safety workers about how HB 1507 would hurt them.
“I’ve been attacked by inmates. Every day I’m exposed to hepatitis, MRSA and other diseases. I’ve had to break up fights and confiscate homemade weapons. I’m the guy that keeps these violent offenders away from you and your kids. And I’m the guy this legislation is attacking,” said Bill Jones, a Corrections Officer at Lancaster County Prison for 24 years. “This legislation will make my job more dangerous. It makes it harder for workers and employers to work together to find safe and cost-effective solutions. This legislation will take away my rights and my voice.”
“Similar bills – so-called model legislation prepared by the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is being promoted all over the country by a secret network of out-of-state billionaires and corporate special interest groups who want to keep more corporate profits for themselves,” said PA AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale. “These bills have special interests and political paybacks written all over them. We’ve been successful at stopping their unpopular political agenda of privatization of the lottery, the turnpike and our pensions and social security. They failed so now they are trying to silence the voice of workers and the middle class. Pure and simple this political payback for stopping their unpopular agenda of less job security and lower pay for all workers,” Bloomingdale said.
A third rally sprang to life in the East Wing Rotunda of the Capitol where another gathering of about one hundred workers from a wide variety of disciplines were gathered without access to the main event. Operating Engineers Local 66 Business Manager, James Kunz from Pittsburgh, a member of the PA AFL-CIO Executive Board availed himself to a live microphone that earlier had been used for a press conference supporting the legalization of medical marijuana and rallied the workers there to the cause.
All of the energized activity took place peacefully and respectfully, not living up to a press release put our hours before the event by the Commonwealth Foundation headlined “Big Labor Scares Workers, Storms Capitol”. The Commonwealth Foundation, a right-wing front group for wealthy corporate interests calls itself a “free market think tank.” After reading the “think tank”‘s news release from this morning the Commonwealth Foundation should be advised to stick to thinking, because clearly it is not adept at predicting the future.