Pennsylvania Republican Defends 'Right-To-Work' Laws Ahead Of Election In Union-Heavy District

PITTSBURGH ― Republican Rick Saccone defended so-called “right-to-work” laws three days before a special election in a Western Pennsylvania district with a high rate of union membership.

Saccone, the GOP nominee in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, took reporters’ questions at a small campaign event in the offices of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County on Friday evening.

Asked whether he would support a national right-to-work law, Saccone would not answer directly.

However, he justified right-to-work legislation, arguing that it would not be a hindrance to unions if they were “willing to compete.”

“The right-to-work thing is always a tricky thing, because look, when I talk to union members, they tell me they’re willing to compete,” Saccone said. “The leadership doesn’t like right-to-work because they don’t want to compete.”

“But every union member I know, they’re not afraid to compete,” he continued. “They’ve got a lot to sell, and I’m their biggest salesman.”

Republican Rick Saccone speaks to reporters at the Republican Committee of Allegheny County offices in Pittsburgh on March 9, 2018. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Republican Rick Saccone speaks to reporters at the Republican Committee of Allegheny County offices in Pittsburgh on March 9, 2018. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Saccone went on to deliver a lengthy paean to the quality of union work, specifically when it comes to construction.

“It costs a little more to hire a union person sometimes,” he said. “But you know what, when you want quality, you pay a little more.”

Asked again at the end of his answer whether that meant that he in fact supported a national right-to-work law, Saccone called on another reporter.

Right-to-work legislation bars unions from mandating any form of dues payment from workers they represent in collective bargaining. Advocates of right-to-work laws argue that they protect workers’ right to refuse to contribute to an organization against their will.

But the laws enable workers who have benefited from the union’s representation and resources to effectively freeload by shirking dues payments. Labor unions bitterly fight attempts to implement right-to-work laws at the state level, deriding them as “right to work for less” and “freedom to freeload.”

Despite unions’ best efforts, however, big business and conservative interest groups have successfully used right-to-work laws at the state level to diminish the power of unions by eroding their sources of funding. Since the Tea Party wave of 2010, longtime union strongholds like Wisconsin, Michigan and West Virginia have all become right-to-work states.

A knock-on effect of weaker unions is poorer Democratic Party performance, since unions often contribute to Democratic candidates and encourage their members to vote for them. After the passage of right-to-work laws, the Democratic share of votes in presidential elections declines by 3.5 percentage points, according to a January study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Saccone, 60, a staunch fiscal conservative, is already on record in support of right-to-work legislation, having picked up the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Right to Work PAC in 2014.

But his refusal to state his position on a national right-to-work law and willingness to speak about the policy’s merits so soon before Tuesday’s election illustrates a major challenge he faces in a district with a high rate of union membership.

Although the voters of Pennsylvania’s 18th District voted for President Donald Trump by nearly 20 percentage points, it is not an economically right-wing district. More than one-fifth of the district’s residents are active or retired members of unions, including the United Steelworkers and United Mine Workers of America.

Saccone’s opponent, Conor Lamb, 33, has campaigned as a champion of unions and foe of right-to-work legislation. He has benefited from the unified support of the region’s unions and their sophisticated voter education and turnout operations.

Lamb has defied dour political projections to amass a small lead against Saccone, according to a recent Emerson College poll.

If he manages to win on Tuesday, it will be in no small part due to the contrast he has created on the issue of labor union rights.

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Conor Lamb Nomination

Conor Lamb reacts to winning the Democratic nomination for the 18th District seat inside Washington High School gymnasium, where the nomination convention was being held in Washington, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 19.
Conor Lamb reacts to winning the Democratic nomination for the 18th District seat inside Washington High School gymnasium, where the nomination convention was being held in Washington, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 19.

Saccone Greets Trump

Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate in the special election for Pennsylvania's 18th District, greets President Donald Trump upon arrival at Pittsburgh International Airport on Jan. 18. Trump held a rally in support of the GOP tax cut legislation that doubled as a campaign event for Saccone.
Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate in the special election for Pennsylvania's 18th District, greets President Donald Trump upon arrival at Pittsburgh International Airport on Jan. 18. Trump held a rally in support of the GOP tax cut legislation that doubled as a campaign event for Saccone.

Tim Murphy

The special election was prompted by the sudden resignation of Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.). Murphy, who opposes abortion rights, was caught telling a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair to get an abortion.
The special election was prompted by the sudden resignation of Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.). Murphy, who opposes abortion rights, was caught telling a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair to get an abortion.
Pennsylvania's 18th District is geographically diverse. It includes affluent suburbs south of Pittsburgh like Mt. Lebanon, pictured here, as well as rural areas and old mill towns.
Pennsylvania's 18th District is geographically diverse. It includes affluent suburbs south of Pittsburgh like Mt. Lebanon, pictured here, as well as rural areas and old mill towns.
Pennsylvania's 18th District also includes rural areas like this stretch of road between Houston and Burgettstown.
Pennsylvania's 18th District also includes rural areas like this stretch of road between Houston and Burgettstown.
Ted Skowvron, a 93-year-old World War II veteran and retired union crane operator, is angry about President Donald Trump. At an event for Democrat Conor Lamb at the American Legion post in Houston, Pennsylvania, on Jan. 13, Skowvron braved the snow and below-freezing temperatures to encourage Lamb to take on the president. <br /><br />"I just wanted to let you know: Get in there and get him out. Cuss if you don't do it. I'm coming down myself," Skowvron said. "The way Trump talks to people, the way he's treating the world ... He's ruining the country," Skowvron added.
Ted Skowvron, a 93-year-old World War II veteran and retired union crane operator, is angry about President Donald Trump. At an event for Democrat Conor Lamb at the American Legion post in Houston, Pennsylvania, on Jan. 13, Skowvron braved the snow and below-freezing temperatures to encourage Lamb to take on the president.

"I just wanted to let you know: Get in there and get him out. Cuss if you don't do it. I'm coming down myself," Skowvron said. "The way Trump talks to people, the way he's treating the world ... He's ruining the country," Skowvron added.
Alex Nakoneczny, 67, a retired coal miner, and Greg McIlheny, 67, owner of Shelley's Pike Inn Diner, are staunch Democrats who planned to vote for Conor Lamb in the special election without knowing much about him. They both supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary and believe he would have defeated Trump in the general election, though they were happy to vote for Hillary Clinton. <br /><br />Trump performed well in the area because young people supported him, according to Nakoneczny. "They're tired of all these promises," he said. "Everybody's promising 'em, nobody's ever doing nothing." <br /><br />Nakoneczny continued: "As much as Trump sucks, he's telling you, 'I'm putting yinz first. I'm doing what you wanna do.' But he's not doing it the right way, ya know what I mean?"
Alex Nakoneczny, 67, a retired coal miner, and Greg McIlheny, 67, owner of Shelley's Pike Inn Diner, are staunch Democrats who planned to vote for Conor Lamb in the special election without knowing much about him. They both supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary and believe he would have defeated Trump in the general election, though they were happy to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Trump performed well in the area because young people supported him, according to Nakoneczny. "They're tired of all these promises," he said. "Everybody's promising 'em, nobody's ever doing nothing."

Nakoneczny continued: "As much as Trump sucks, he's telling you, 'I'm putting yinz first. I'm doing what you wanna do.' But he's not doing it the right way, ya know what I mean?"
Tina Dhanse, 48, a supervisor at the local Salvation Army, was not sure how she planned to vote in the special election. Her partner, Don Snedeker, 49, a truck driver, leans conservative, but never votes because he believes it could lead the government to sign him up for jury duty, which would cause him to miss work. Dhanse voted for Donald Trump in November 2016 because he was new to politics. <br /><br />"I'm like, 'You know what: Let somebody in who's been in business that seems to know what he's doing because he's not broke," she recalled. But Dhanse has heard that the GOP tax legislation is "not gonna really do much for the middle class." <br /><br />"The people that make a million dollars, they should be able to give a little more to make businesses give raises. People can't live on $7.25 an hour," Dhanse added. "And the minimum wage hasn't changed for how long? Thirteen years or something like that."
Tina Dhanse, 48, a supervisor at the local Salvation Army, was not sure how she planned to vote in the special election. Her partner, Don Snedeker, 49, a truck driver, leans conservative, but never votes because he believes it could lead the government to sign him up for jury duty, which would cause him to miss work. Dhanse voted for Donald Trump in November 2016 because he was new to politics.

"I'm like, 'You know what: Let somebody in who's been in business that seems to know what he's doing because he's not broke," she recalled. But Dhanse has heard that the GOP tax legislation is "not gonna really do much for the middle class."

"The people that make a million dollars, they should be able to give a little more to make businesses give raises. People can't live on $7.25 an hour," Dhanse added. "And the minimum wage hasn't changed for how long? Thirteen years or something like that."
Wes Donahoe, 29, is a medical equipment repair specialist in Jeannette, Pennsylvania. He voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson in the 2016 election and didn't know enough about the special election candidates to decide how he would vote. But he is pretty satisfied with President Donald Trump, including the tax cut bill, which he believes will help him and most people in the middle class. <br /><br />At the same time, Donahoe said the corporate tax cuts will probably not prompt companies to create new jobs. "Just because a company is getting more tax breaks doesn't mean that there's more demand for [their] production or service or anything," he said.
Wes Donahoe, 29, is a medical equipment repair specialist in Jeannette, Pennsylvania. He voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson in the 2016 election and didn't know enough about the special election candidates to decide how he would vote. But he is pretty satisfied with President Donald Trump, including the tax cut bill, which he believes will help him and most people in the middle class.

At the same time, Donahoe said the corporate tax cuts will probably not prompt companies to create new jobs. "Just because a company is getting more tax breaks doesn't mean that there's more demand for [their] production or service or anything," he said.
Robert Lintz (left) wishes he could retire, but the 74-year-old does not have a pension or a 401k, so he puts up billboards when the weather is warm enough. He lives on a $1,500 Social Security benefit and another $300 to $400 from the billboard work in warmer months. "I'd just like to be able to afford stuff," he said. <br /><br />Lintz, a lifelong Democrat, voted for Barack Obama but left the top of the ballot blank in 2016. He said he would have rather voted for Mickey Mouse than either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. "I don't think there is a party for working people any more," he said. "They're all the same. Call it Republicats and it would be right now." <br /><br />Hearing Lintz opine at the McDonald's in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, Don Dowler, 72, walked over. Dowler, a retired union member, voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and is inclined to vote Republican in the special election. But if Dowler heard the Republican candidate is anti-labor, he said, "That might affect me, yeah. It depends which way he goes."
Robert Lintz (left) wishes he could retire, but the 74-year-old does not have a pension or a 401k, so he puts up billboards when the weather is warm enough. He lives on a $1,500 Social Security benefit and another $300 to $400 from the billboard work in warmer months. "I'd just like to be able to afford stuff," he said.

Lintz, a lifelong Democrat, voted for Barack Obama but left the top of the ballot blank in 2016. He said he would have rather voted for Mickey Mouse than either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. "I don't think there is a party for working people any more," he said. "They're all the same. Call it Republicats and it would be right now."

Hearing Lintz opine at the McDonald's in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, Don Dowler, 72, walked over. Dowler, a retired union member, voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and is inclined to vote Republican in the special election. But if Dowler heard the Republican candidate is anti-labor, he said, "That might affect me, yeah. It depends which way he goes."

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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