PA AFL-CIO Hosts Press Conference and Lobby Day: Middle-class Pennsylvanians brave the cold to freeze right-wing efforts to silence them

Jan 28, 2014, 16:02 ET from Pennsylvania AFL-CIO

Working Pennsylvanians defend their freedom to have a voice in Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa., Jan. 28, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Police officers, firefighters, teachers, child-care workers, nurses, clergy and other public safety workers held a news conference Tuesday in the Capitol Rotunda to oppose a bill that that unfairly targets workers' voluntary payroll deductions, while continuing to allow deductions that go to insurance companies, big banks and financial companies.

Legislation being considered in the Pennsylvania House and Senate would prohibit employers and employees from negotiating voluntary payroll deductions – a right school and state employees have had for nearly half a century. Payroll deduction legislation is drawing significant opposition from diverse groups across the state. 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 school, healthcare and public safety workers.

"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."

Supporters of the legislation claim they want to help workers and protect taxpayers, but the real goal of the legislation is clear: to silence the voices of middle-class workers on matters that affect our schools, healthcare and public safety.

Pennsylvanians from communities around the state traveled here by bus to speak up for middle-class working people and visited their state senators and representatives to urge them to oppose House Bill 1507 (and companion Senate Bill 1034) and similar bills that would hurt Pennsylvania's struggling middle class even more.

"In state after state we have seen the quality of life and the vitality of our communities being laid to waste by right wing extremists," said firefighter Danny Drumm. "These same groups are now here in Pennsylvania trying to threaten our elected officials. They are secretly spending millions trying to attack the working people. We won't let it happen here. Our message to our elected officials is a simple one. We will have your backs if you have ours. Stand up and say. I will not attack our workers. I will not attack our families. And, I will not attack our communities," Drumm added. 

"There's a reason why right-wing politicians are pushing ALEC-written bills that take away worker's rights to negotiate payroll deductions from workers like me," said Barbara Morris, who worked as a Head Start teaching assistant for 38 years in Philadelphia. "Teachers and other educators in Pennsylvania have been very successful at shining a light on Gov. Corbett's massive education budget cuts, which have resulted in over-crowded classes, closed libraries, no access to school nurses or counselors and the elimination of art, music, sports, honors and elective courses. They want to silence our voices, and tilt the balance of power in Harrisburg even further toward corporations and wealthy special interests."

"I know that there are some who refer to these bills as "paycheck protections" bills, but they protect no one and there will be no taxpayer savings. These attacks are part of a nationwide effort by out-of-state special interests groups to further their own agenda. I am proud to stand with all Pennsylvania workers with one voice against House Bill 1507, Senate Bill 1034 and any similar attempts to take away our rights," stated Les Neri the President of the Pennsylvania State Lodge Fraternal Oder of Police. 

William Hamilton, Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters president; State Senator Jay Costa, Jr. D-Allegheny County; State Representative Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks County; and Bishop Dr. A.E. Sullivan Jr., President of the Interdenominational Ministries Conference of Greater Harrisburg also spoke in support of protecting working families. Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord also signaled his opposition to the bill.

"Nurses are on the frontlines in their hospitals, nursing homes, communities and in Harrisburg advocating for quality healthcare for their patients. This bill would weaken our ability to fight for access to healthcare, safer staffing levels, support for nursing homes," said Rita Treager, a Registered Nurse at a county nursing home and a member of SEIU Healthcare PA. "This is a distraction that Pennsylvania cannot afford. Our state leaders should be focused on helping the most vulnerable, not silencing the nurses who provide their care"

"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 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.

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Frank Snyder added: "The supporters of this attack claim this is all about restoring ethics to government. 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.  

SOURCE Pennsylvania AFL-CIO