Legislation initiated in the state House of Representatives that seeks to eliminate violent activities during labor strikes is now before the full Senate after completion of the Judiciary Committee’s work on the bill.

The bill, HB 1154, strikes a “carve-out” from the Pennsylvania Crimes Code that is said to have created a loophole permitting stalking, harassment, and even threats with weapons of mass destruction by labor or management during strikes. The Senate committee amended the bill to clarify that it doesn’t supersede provisions in the U.S. or Pennsylvania Constitution upholding the right to free speech, according to Judiciary Committee counsel Gregg Warner.

“Initially a district attorney would be making a judgment on whether the conduct is protected activity and whether the person should be charged, but if charges are brought, a defendant could argue to the judge that the activity was protected conduct and the charges should be dismissed,” Warner wrote in an email.

State Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, introduced the measure to bring a “level of civility” back to labor negotiations.

“It’s about preventing certain activities now allowed under the law that ultimately lead to violence,” Miller said. “The bill accomplishes this without infringing on anyone’s right to free speech or lawful union activities.”

Miller said that a 2012 U.S. Chamber of Commerce study titled “Sabotage, Stalking and Stealth Exemptions: Special State Law for Labor Unions” alerted him to the carve-out in the Crimes Code.

The February indictment of 10 members of Ironworkers Local 401 prompted the House to move on Miller’s legislation.

The indictment states, in part, that “many of the defendants and their associates’ picket lines used violence and threats of violence to force and illegally extort contractors into hiring members of the Ironworkers Local 401. … If the threat … did not force the contractor to accede to the defendants’ demands, defendants and their associates would assault employees of the non-union contractor and destroy property … assaulting non-union employees with baseball bats, slashing tires, smashing vehicles with crowbars … and otherwise sabotaging the construction site.”

— J.L.K. •