PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Pennsylvania has long been considered a strong labor state. Even though manufacturing has declined here, the state’s history as an industrial center has left a tradition of union membership.

But a national anti-union movement is trying to change that, and especially to reduce the influence of public employees unions.

Adversarial relationships are part of doing business for unions: they fight to get into a workplace, then sit across from employers in negotiations. But even unions have been flummoxed by this new kind of opposition.

“Really what we would like to see is to take the unions out at the knees, so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles,” says an official of Americans For Prosperity, a nonprofit group that receives millions of dollars from corporate funders and is considered the driving force of the Wisconsin effort to decertify state worker unions.

AFP recently opened a Pennsylvania chapter.  Spokeswoman Jennifer Stefano (holding bullhorn in top photo) says the big issue for AFP in Pennsylvania is the “closed shop” law that requires employees in a unionized workplace to join the union that negotiates for them.

Now, she says, her group is guiding legislators on how to undo some of the current pro-union legislation.

“We’re going through the bills and pieces of legislation, and we’re taking a look at them and seeing if we can help advance them,” says Stefano.

But even if they can’t get rid of the closed-shop law right away, she says, they’ll start by attacking smaller targets.

“So, for instance, the state collects dues for unions,” she says.  “We should not spend money to collect dues for private organizations.”

eiding Part 2:  Organized Opposition To Unions

Philadelphia AFL-CIO president Pat Eiding. Photo provided)

Stefano says the group is driven by the ideology of individual rights, but Philadelphia AFL-CIO president Pat Eiding (right) has a different theory — that right-wing groups are irked by the political clout of unions.

“We have a labor program that puts thousands and thousands of people on the street and we get out the vote.  And more than just knocking on the door, we get the issues heard,” Eiding points out.

Eiding says unions are the only organizations in America big enough to elevate the issues that help working people, and the large corporations that fund groups like Americans For Prosperity are trying to eliminate the competition.

Reported by Pat Loeb, KYW Newsradio 1060.

Hear the CBS Philly “State of the Unions” podcasts…

Unionism in the Philadelphia Region, by KYW’s John McDevitt:

Organized Opposition to Organized Labor, by KYW’s Pat Loeb:

The Battle Over NJ Teacher Tenure, by KYW’s John McDevitt:

Will Labor Unions Survive?, by KYW’s Pat Loeb: