Pennsylvania union pays to oppose privatization

$301,000 spent last year in state store battle

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HARRISBURG -- As backers of disbanding Pennsylvania's state liquor system celebrate passage of legislation in the House, new disclosures show continued spending to fight privatization last year by the union representing workers.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 spent at least $301,000 in 2012 on consultants and a video as it defended against an effort to replace the state-owned wholesale and retail wine and spirits system, according to public disclosure paperwork filed annually with the U.S. Department of Labor. The union also spent money to reimburse members who took time off work to be in the Capitol as legislators discussed privatization and to pay for travel and lodging for relevant meetings, said Wendell Young IV, president of Local 1776. The union encourages members to come to the Capitol on their own time, when possible.

The spending was a drop from the amount the union reported spending on the issue in 2011 -- at least $377,000 -- when it purchased more radio advertising, according to Mr. Young.

"That's when Mike Turzai first staked a claim on this issue and was promising it would be the first bill introduced and the first bill enacted," he said. "So, of course we worked really hard to avoid that throughout 2011. There was a lot more attention in terms of hearings, and a lot more going on until just recently in 2013."

Spending by the union to fight privatization commenced in 2011, when Gov. Tom Corbett took office and Republicans, with Mr. Turzai of Bradford Woods as majority leader, took control of the House.

The other union local representing liquor store workers, UFCW Local 23, contributed to Local 1776's efforts to fight privatization in 2011 and 2012, according to federal filings.

The 2012 report was filed Friday with the U.S. Department of Labor.

House Republicans in March passed legislation that would allow private sales of wine and liquor while phasing out government stores. The House bill creates 1,200 licenses for the sale of wine and spirits, first available to beer distributors, with the possibility of up to 600 additional licenses. It creates a system for phasing out the approximately 600 state stores by county as private sellers open.

The bill heads to the Senate, where prominent members have said they support more gradual change. Continued spending against privatization will depend on the course the bill takes there.

"I think this year could prove to be the most expensive year," Mr. Young said. "It's too soon to say. Who knows what turns this is going to take."

The two UFCW locals represent 3,500 workers at state wine and spirits stores. Local 1776 represents 24,000 members working in supermarkets, drug stores, food processing plants and other industries, while Local 23 has about 13,000 members.

After the 2010 elections, union leaders went to members employed in the liquor stores and recommended they raise their dues to fight privatization attempts, Mr. Young said.

"The liquor store employees very quickly upfront agreed to pay more money," he said. "That's funding some of this. But clearly if it weren't for the solidarity of all the members, we wouldn't be able to do what we are doing."

electionspa - state - businessnews

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141. Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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