Unions & Labor Policy


Release Time: Diverting Public Resources to Unions

May 11, 2015 | Commentary by Commonwealth Foundation
  • Release time allows government employees to take a leave of absence from their jobs to perform union work.
  • Many government employees working for the union are paid by taxpayers while still accruing benefits as if they were working in the public sector.
  • In the School District of Philadelphia, up to 63 employees can perform union work while still accruing publicly-provided benefits.


Attack Ads Funded by Taxpayer-Collected Union Dues

JANUARY 22, 2016

Seeing a political attack ad on TV is nothing new. You probably roll your eyes and change the channel. But what if you learned you unwittingly helped put that ad on the air? Most Pennsylvanians would be shocked—and for good reason.

Since the end of December, the union-backed political group America Works USA has spent more than 1.1 million to air misleading ads slamming the state budget as "garbage" and parroting the Wolf administration's false claim that the budget "cuts education."

America Works TV & Cable Ad Buy

12/29/15 to 1/19/16

Media Market

Total

Erie

$18,594

Harrisburg/Lancaster/York

$198,535

Johnstown/Altoona

$38,965

Philadelphia

$388,550

Pittsburgh

$346,123

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

$93,108

Targeted by District

$17,252

Total

$1,101,127


In a fact that would surprise many, the ads are funded with union dues and collected by taxpayer resources. This political privilege is partly responsible for facilitating America Works’ deceptive messaging campaign. Here is what we know about the group’s funding sources thus far:

  • AFSCME Council 13, representing Pennsylvania state workers, gave $115,000 directly to America Works USA.
  • The National Education Association, the parent union of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, gave $1 million directly to America Works USA.
  • The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) funds America Works USA.Government unions gave nearly $6.5 million to the DGA, according to the latest annual reports filed with the U.S Department of Labor.
  • Last year, the American Federation of Teachers—the parent union of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers—sent just under $1.5 million to the DGA. AFSCME National Headquarters sent more than $4 million.
  • Unions finance these contributions from the mandatory dues (not voluntary PAC contributions) of teachers and other state workers using publicly funded payroll systems.

This America Works’ union-dues funded misinformation campaign is not its first. Back in July, the group ran ads targeting lawmakers who opposed the governor’s massive tax increases. Regrettably, the ads aren’t the only instance of dues being used for political purposes. This is a pattern, not an anomaly.

Taxpayers should not be required to help fund blatantly political activities. And union members should be given the ability to hold their unions accountable if they feel their dues money isn't being spent appropriately. Paycheck protection legislation, which passed the Senate last year, can achieve both goals.

It’s time Pennsylvania require unions to collect their own attack-ad money and stop using public resources to bankroll their politics.

posted by GINA DIORIO | 11:17 AM | Comments

Pay Up or Get Fired

JANUARY 12, 2016

Imagine being told you have a choice: Write a check for $450 to an organization you don’t support, or lose your job. For tens of thousands of teachers across Pennsylvania this ultimatum is reality. Every year, teachers across Pennsylvania are forced to fund the government teachers’ union just to escape a pink slip.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a landmark case that could free these teachers—and thousands more public employees across the state and nation—from compulsory union support.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, challenges the requirement that public sector employees who are not union members financially support the union via “fair share” fees. The union claims these fees are for collective bargaining, but as The Fairness Center’s assistant general counsel Karin Sweigart, notes:

Unions regularly use these fees to influence how public money is spent—an inherently political activity. Every dollar devoted to funding troubled public pensions, excessive administrative overhead, or other misplaced union priorities is a dollar that could have been used for school supplies, social services, or countless other public priorities.

Sweigart, who addressed a crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court yesterday, added that teachers are simply asking the Court for something most Americans take for granted: “freedom from being forced to support someone else’s political agenda as a condition of employment.”

In Pennsylvania alone, teachers in approximately 70 percent of school districts must pay the teachers’ union or lose their job—whether or not they are members. For a full-time teacher who opts out of union membership, the “fair share” fee totals $448 for 2015-16. That’s nearly $450 just to stay employed.

No American should be forced to fund a private organization simply to keep their job. It’s time to restore true freedom to teachers and all public employees.

posted by GINA DIORIO | 09:37 AM | Comments

A Governor's Resolution List for 2016

JANUARY 5, 2016

Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf promised he would take state government in a "different direction" and grow the middle class. He pledged to do this by making Pennsylvania a magnet for private sector entrepreneurs without giving massive tax breaks to special interests.

Throughout 2015, the governor has strayed from those promises by vetoing a budget that held the line on taxes, privatized liquor and made an effort to protect the state's credit ratings through pension reform.

Of course, a new year provides new opportunities…or should we say a fresh start. So with the new year in mind, here are five resolutions the governor can work toward to deliver on his promises to Pennsylvanians:

Resolution #1: Return to the campaign promise not to raise taxes on working people.

As a candidate, Tom Wolf promised to protect low and middle-income people from a tax increase, but in 2015, he broke that promise. Fortunately, the governor has an opportunity to stand on the side of an overtaxed working class, and prevent policies that will expedite the exodus of Pennsylvanians.

Resolution #2: Level the playing field and cut spending on corporate welfare programs. 

Unbelievably, government spending has increased in 44 of the last 45 budget years. Cutting down or eliminating nearly $700 million in corporate welfare is a great way to save tax dollars and level the playing field for all Pennsylvanians.

Resolution #3: Deliver property tax relief by signing real pension reform.

Over the past year, the governor highlighted the onerous property tax system in Pennsylvania and proposed a tax shift to help, but such a shift does not solve the real problem: school budgets squeezed by pension costs.

To provide relief to homeowners, we need comprehensive pension reform that stops adding new debt and provides a method to pay down existing debt. That means converting to a 401k-type system and finding additional revenue (either through spending cuts or non-tax revenue sources) to pay for the more than $53 billion in benefits promised to public employees.

Resolution #4: Make government work smarter by getting out of the booze business.

Selling wine and liquor is not a function of state government. Government booze control leads to higher prices, fewer choices, less convenience, an inefficient bureaucracy. Selling the state stores would be a windfall for both taxpayers and consumers alike.

Resolution #5: Create "government that works" by increasing transparency and ensuring taxpayer resources are not used for politics.

Government should not grant any private organization unfair political privileges. This includes using taxpayer resources for the collection of political money. A true “transparency governor” will end these favors and restore accountability to taxpayers.

To strengthen our state and give Pennsylvania a real fresh start, these are five resolutions worth keeping.

posted by BOB DICK | 03:24 PM | Comments

Tax Hike of Christmas Past?

DECEMBER 17, 2015

Given the rumblings of an imminent vote on higher income taxes, it's important to remember what happened 12 years ago (nearly to the day!) with our state budget.

Ed Rendell was governor. Republicans controlled the House (108-95) and Senate (28-22). Republicans passed a no-tax-increase budget in early 2003 and were poised to reject job-crushing tax hikes. The governor had line-item vetoed education spending and was holding kids’ education hostage to get his tax increases. Sound familiar?

Gov. Rendell had demanded a 30 percent increase in the Personal Income Tax. I vividly remember Senate leaders in mid-November as they declared their steadfast resolve to not vote for higher taxes. Many expected the House and Senate would hold the line on tax increases. The public was with them!

But then, just before Christmas, the dam burst. 30 Republican representatives and 14 Republican senators–against the will of the majority of their majority–joined with enough Democrats to pass a 10 percent increase in income taxes. Governor Rendell signed the bill on December 23, 2003.

The borrowing of billions followed quickly in 2004, with massive spending increases each year thereafter.

Much has changed since Rendell’s first year in office. Over 76 percent of the House and Senate has turned over. The Republican majority is the largest in 60 years. What hasn't changed, however, are the forces that profit from Big Government: the government unions, which remain as powerful and wealthy as ever before. 

And yet here we are today. Will the legislature agree to massive tax hikes without meaningful pension or liquor reforms?

Will 2015 be a repeat of 2003?

It doesn’t have to be! Encourage your state Representative and Senator to stand strong against those who only want to tax more, spend more, borrow more.

Gov. Wolf’s year-long pursuit of higher taxes shouldn’t end like Gov. Rendell’s. History doesn’t need to repeat itself.

posted by MATTHEW BROUILLETTE | 05:00 PM | Comments

The Voluntary Deductions Facade

OCTOBER 29, 2015

Paycheck protection detractors defend using taxpayer resources for partisan politics by insisting union members can voluntarily deduct political donations from their paychecks, but this excuse misses the point.

Taxpayers aren't offered a choice. They're forced to play a role in the political campaigns of government unions.

The purpose of paycheck protection is not to make all payroll deductions voluntary but to remove taxpayers from serving as the unions’ personal collection agency for political cash. Far from being voluntary, taxpayers are compelled to subsidize the political agenda of government unions.

But even if we ignore the forced association mandated by automatic dues and PAC deductions, there is still a problem with defending the practice as voluntary for union members. 

As my colleague Nate pointed out last month, many members don't know their union dues fund political activities. So if a state employee authorizes a payroll deduction for the full amount of union dues, it's possible they’re unknowingly sending their money to political causes they find distasteful.

John Cress, a teacher in Lawrence County, was just one of many who didn't know his union dues were being used for political activities

But what I didn't know was that the union would withold dues money out of my paycheck every month, like taxes, and spend it on political ads and causes that turn my stomach.

I'd always been told that union dues can't be used for politics—and I believed it.

If lawmakers were to pass paycheck protection legislation currently pending in the House, it would require unions to ask their members for a political donation, which is a much more transparent process than the one members operate under now. 

By adopting paycheck protection, teachers like John would no longer be left in the dark about their union's political spending habits, and taxpayers wouldn't be forced to subsidize the stealthy political operations of government unions.

posted by BOB DICK | 00:33 PM | Comments

Justice for All

OCTOBER 28, 2015

Sarina Rose counted on the justice system to punish the person who harassed her during a labor dispute. The system let her down. The Philadelphia Inquirer covered her ordeal last year:

When Rose spotted Sweeney on March 14 at the nearby Jany's Restaurant, she was not surprised to see him. But as she told Hayden during a nonjury trial in November, the union leader's actions that day left her unnerved.

As she headed toward the restroom, Sweeney cursed at her, loudly and repeatedly, calling her a scab and worse, she said. When a security guard attempted to intervene, Sweeney backed her against a counter and was soon joined by union colleagues.

"We were stuck in this tight restaurant, and they were yelling and surrounding us," she recalled Wednesday. "It was definitely a bad situation."

Rose escaped. But when she left her company's work site later that morning, she noticed Sweeney in her car mirror. His hand shaped like a gun, he pointed it at her and mouthed, "Bang, bang, bang," she said.

Seeking justice, Rose pressed charges against Edward Sweeney, a longtime Ironworkers official. Little did she know a loophole in Pennsylvania Crimes Code would deny her the justice she sought. The judge dismissed the case specifically citing an exemption for harassment during a labor dispute.

Remarkably, anyone in a labor dispute can stalk, harass, or even threaten to use weapons of mass destruction against another person without punishment. But the absurdity of this injustice may finally be coming to an end.

Yesterday, lawmakers voted 107-91 to end the indefensible exemption and protect both workers and management from belligerent behavior.

The bill now heads to Gov. Wolf’s desk, giving him a golden opportunity to ensure Pennsylvania is a place where bullying and thuggery aren't tolerated by anyone against anyone.

Union and non-union workers alike deserve to know they will be protected under the law should someone seek to harm them.

posted by BOB DICK | 09:37 AM | Comments

Three Reforms that Transcend Party Lines

OCTOBER 21, 2015

Budget gridlock is hamstringing Harrisburg, but when it comes to transparency and accountability, a bipartisan majority of Pennsylvanians support three key reforms.

Paycheck protection, transparency in government union contract negotiations, and state spending limits earned widespread support in a recent Susquehanna Polling and Research survey of 700 registered voters.

67% support paycheck protection

Two-thirds of Pennsylvanians believe taxpayer resources should not be used to collect campaign contributions. Among union households, support is 80 percent, according to a 2014 poll.

Last election cycle, 10 government unions gave more than $10 million to political candidates. That money was funneled through public payroll systems, essentially making taxpayers an unwilling third party in furthering government union leaders’ political agendas. Click here for more information on paycheck protection.

Poll Results: Paycheck Protection Support

 

Overall

Republican

Democrat

Independent

Total Support

67%

75%

59%

69%

Total Oppose

26%

16%

34%

22%

Undecided

7%

7%

6%

9%

 

Poll Results: Paycheck Protection by Region

 

NW

SW

Central

NE/Lehigh

S Central

SE

Allegheny

Philadelphia

Total Support

72%

75%

67%

55%

76%

68%

72%

53%

Total Oppose

21%

24%

22%

30%

18%

25%

19%

43%

Undecided

7%

1%

9%

12%

6%

7%

8%

4%

73% support transparency in government union contract negotiations

School districts and municipalities regularly approve secret contracts, worth billions, with state government unions. Recently Monessen School District approved a new teachers’ contract with secret terms. Likewise, Crestwood Area School District tentatively agreed to an undisclosed contract with the local union. District taxpayers are later handed the bill for millions of dollars.

The state Senate has already passed two transparency bills: SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, empowers the Independent Fiscal Office to give taxpayers cost estimates on state public sector union contracts before ratification. Sen. Patrick Stefano's SB 645 requires public sector collective bargaining agreements to be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks before signing. Click here for more information on contract transparency.

Poll Results: Gov. Union Contract Transparency

 

Overall

Republican

Democrat

Independent

Total Support

73%

77%

70%

74%

Total Oppose

16%

12%

20%

20%

Undecided

10%

11%

10%

6%

 

Poll Results: Gov. Union Contract Transparency by Region

 

NW

SW

Central

NE/Lehigh

S Central

SE

Allegheny

Philadelphia

Total Support

75%

72%

68%

55%

66%

65%

69%

51%

Total Oppose

17%

15%

16%

29%

17%

23%

19%

35%

Undecided

7%

12%

16%

14%

16%

11%

12%

15%

64% support state spending limits like the Taxpayer Protection Act

Decades of out of control spending make Pennsylvania unattractive for those wanting to start a family and a career. Pennsylvania ranks just 49th in job growth, 48th in population growth, and 45th in personal income growth in the past two decades.

Reasonable guard rails on state spending are needed to make our state competitive again. Click here for more information on the Taxpayer Protection Act.

Poll Results: Taxpayer Protection Act

 

Overall

Republican

Democrat

Independent

Total Support

64%

71%

62%

59%

Total Oppose

22%

13%

27%

30%

Undecided

13%

14%

10%

11%

 

Poll Results: Taxpayer Protection Act by Region

 

NW

SW

Central

NE/Lehigh

S Central

SE 

Allegheny

Philadelphia

Total Support

72%

80%

75%

71%

74%

69%

72%

75%

Total Oppose

2%

7%

19%

24%

10%

23%

18%

12%

Undecided

26%

12%

6%

6%

15%

8%

9%

12%

The strong support for these reforms shows Pennsylvanians value real—not rhetorical—transparency and accountability in government.

 

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 03:36 PM | Comments

Time to Send "Ghost Teachers" Back to the Future

OCTOBER 21, 2015

As 1980s movie buffs know, today—Oct 21, 2015—is the day Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled forward in time in the Back to the Future films. Back to the Future predicted a few things right, and a few things wrong about life in 2015.

But one thing Marty and Doc never expected to see 30 years later is Jerry Jordan—head of the Philadelphia teachers’ union—still working as a ghost teacher. Jordan has been on release time—employed as a “teacher” with the Philadelphia school district, but in reality working for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers—since 1985.

That’s the same year Marty and Doc left from the present—and in the real world, the same year Back to the Future was the number one movie in America.

Yesterday, Representatives Kristin Phillips Hill and Jim Christiana introduced legislation that would put an end to ghost teachers. House Bill 1649 prohibits employees on public school payroll from leaving the classroom to work full-time for unions. Currently, in school districts like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, dozen of employees working for the union remain on school district payrolls (often with the union reimbursing for salaries).

For example, in Philadelphia, due to union contracts, up to 63 district employees can work full-time for the union. In Pittsburgh, up to 16 district employees can work full-time for the union.

These ghost teachers continue to accrue seniority and pension benefits, despite being out of the classroom for many years—and in some cases, like Jerry Jordan, for decades.

This practice in Philadelphia is currently the subject of a lawsuit. You can read more about that case from our friends at the Fairness Center. 

For better or worse, we don't have flying cars or self-adjusting clothes in 2015. But we can fix the archaic system of union release time and send ghost teachers "Back to the Future"...or rather, back to the classroom.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 00:18 PM | Comments

Secret Contract Leaves Taxpayers in the Dark

SEPTEMBER 29, 2015

In a special Friday night voting session, board members in Monessen School District unanimously approved a new teachers’ contract, which runs through 2018. The terms of the contract, including the cost, is a secret. Still, local property taxpayers are now contractually obligated to foot the bill. Sound unfair? And Monessen is only the latest example of a secretive collective bargaining process that leaves taxpayers in the dark.

Whenever decisions over public money are made, government and elected officials need to be open and transparent. Taxpayers have the right to know how their money is spent. This is common sense. And it’s why a growing number of states are bringing more transparency to public sector labor negotiations. Here in Pennsylvania, the Senate has already passed contract transparency legislation. 

SB 645, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano (Westmoreland), requires a summary of public sector collective bargaining agreements be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks prior to signing. This allows taxpayers to see cost projections and raise objections if the proposed contract does not represent the best interest of taxpayers and workers. 

The Pennsylvania House now has an opportunity to take up SB 645.

Without reform, taxpayers will continue to be stuck paying for secretive backroom deals as exemplified in Monessen School District. Notifying the public after a labor contract is already signed is too little, too late, as there is no turning back. Instead of treating taxpayers as an afterthought, lawmakers should make labor contracts transparent and give Pennsylvanians a seat at the table.   

posted by JONATHAN HUMMA | 10:00 AM | Comments

Young Teachers Pay the Price for Pension Politics

SEPTEMBER 15, 2015

The first month of a new school year is an exciting—but stressful—time for school teachers. This is particularly true for young, newly-hired teachers who must quickly acclimate to their students, colleagues, and a professional environment.  

In Pennsylvania, however, rookie teachers face an additional burden. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explains how the commonwealth’s hemorrhaging pension system stacks the deck against young teachers:

The pension plans…are structured to favor the small minority who teach in a single system for a working lifetime, at the expense of the vast majority who leave the system much earlier in their careers. 

Our state’s backloaded defined benefit pension system is a bad deal for younger teachers—not to mention workers who begin their career late or shift to another job. Fewer than 25 percent of Pennsylvania’s teachers will remain in the school system long enough to even become vested in their pension.

The WSJ article continues:

Under current plan structures, teachers accrue almost no retirement wealth in their first several years—then accrue substantially more as they near retirement age. The hypothetical Philadelphia teacher earns an average of about $1,326 in retirement compensation (in present-value terms) during each of her first 25 years of employment, followed by an average of about $37,593 during each of her last 10 years.

The Pennsylvania Public School Retirement System’s actuaries expect that about 80% of teachers will leave the system before their pension benefit is worth a single dollar. And according to a report last year from Bellwether Education Partners, more than half of all public-school teachers nationally will exit their school systems before their pensions vest.

Pennsylvania’s young public school teachers deserve better. They deserve a retirement account that is portable, and they deserve to own their retirement savings. Helping young teachers is yet another reason for Gov. Wolf to re-consider his veto of meaningful pension reform.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 00:08 PM | Comments

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