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August 10, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Law allows ‘odd’ exemption for stalking by union members in labor dispute

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania state law defines stalking as repeated activity which causes fear of bodily injury or emotional distress in another.

Being convicted of stalking in Pennsylvania will get you up to five years in prison for the misdemeanor offense.

But if you’re a member of a labor union and engaged in an ongoing labor dispute, forget all that.

A provision buried in the 2002 state law that officially defined stalking in the state criminal code states that the law “shall not apply to conduct by a party to a labor dispute.”  The odd exception to the law – Pennsylvania is only one of four states with that language in their legal code – was highlighted on Friday in a report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a national organization that represents the interests of businesses.

An odd exemption in 2002 Pennsylvania law prevents members of labor unions from being charged with stalking.

Glenn Spencer, vice president of the Workforce Freedom Initiative, part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said it was surprising to find an exemption in the law specifically for union members.

The intent of a stalker, whether they are in a union dispute or otherwise, is the same,” he said. “It’s to intimidate and threaten someone.

The Workforce Freedom Initiative was formed about five years ago in response to the national push for card-check legislation and now exists to fight pro-union policy at the state and national levels of government.

Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said labor groups supported the anti-stalking law when it was passed in 2002, but they wanted to make sure that a broad interpretation of the law would not infringe on the ability of workers to organize.

During an organizing campaign, we certainly – with people’s permission – have gone to their homes and talked to them about joining the unions,” he said.

The Chamber report alleges that the special exemption for unions allows them to get away with harassing opponents, which the report says is “often part of a union’s effort to confront adversaries and pressure them to give into its demands.”

Bloomingdale said “criminal activity is criminal activity” and that the AFL-CIO would never condone those tactics.

State Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee, said he had some personal experience with harassment and stalking when he served on the Dallastown School Board in the 1990s.

During a contentious labor dispute in the district, Miller said he was frequently awakened in the night by phone calls with people screaming at him or blowing whistles and promptly hanging up the phone.

He never thought about pressing charges, but the memory returned when he read about the stalking exemption in the law – which he was unaware of before Friday.

It’s something I think we need to investigate,” Miller said.

The Pennsylvania law that defined stalking was passed only 10 years ago, as Act 218 of 2002. The exemption for labor disputes was contained in the original language, which passed both the state House and state Senate unanimously.

The law was signed by then-Gov. Mark Schweiker, a Republican, in December 2002.

As an added twist, the prime sponsor of that legislation was then-state Sen. Joe Conti, R-Bucks, who now serves as CEO of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Like the special exemption for stalking contained in the law he sponsored, the PLCB is something of an oddity as Pennsylvania is one of only two states in the nation with state control of all liquor sales.

Conti, through his spokesperson at the PLCB, gave no comment on Friday.

Even if there was a legitimate purpose for the exemption to be written into the law in the first place, it’s overly broad, Miller said.

Democratic members of the Labor and Industry Committee did not return calls for comment.

Spensor said the organization does not try to block fundamental union rights – including the right to picket and protest, which he called “perfectly legitimate.”

But tactics that go beyond that, for example stalking, are not fundamental workers’ rights, he added.

We don’t condone the breaking of the law, but we certainly support our right to picket,” Bloomingdale said.

Contact Eric Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and Melissa Daniels at Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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