Unions & Labor Policy

CF’s labor policy work centers on protecting workers’ rights by ending the special privileges and coercive power government grants to unions.  Union membership should be voluntary; unions should collect their own dues; no one should be forced to support a union’s political agenda; and workers should not be coerced to give part of their pay to a union or lose their job.  Moreover, taxpayers should not be forced to support unions, either directly or through special carve-outs for government contractors which benefit certain unions.

PA Government Unions

Government Unions' Political Spending

April 8, 2014 | Commentary by Commonwealth Foundation

Currently, state and local governments, including school districts, use taxpayer-funded payroll systems and public employee time to collect union campaign contributions to candidates as well as union membership dues, a portion of which is used for political activity.  Government unions spend dues money on a variety of political activities, including get-out-the vote drives, election mailers in support of candidates, lobbying of legislators, TV and radio ads, and fundraising for political action committees (PACs).

Injustice is a Product of Labor Disputes

APRIL 1, 2015

Stalking, harassment and threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction are all legal activities in Pennsylvania. It's almost impossible to believe, but yes, these abusive acts are permitted when employed during a labor dispute as defined by the Labor Anti-Injunction Act.

Laws that permit abuse, even under limited circumstances, are an affront to justice. Union members or employers involved in a labor dispute should not be free to stalk, harass or threaten with impunity. But that’s exactly what happened in the case of Sarina Rose, who was harassed by Edward Sweeney, a member of Ironworkers Local 401. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the incident 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.

Despite the harassment suffered at the hands of a union bully, justice wasn’t done for Ms. Rose. Mr. Sweeney’s defense attorney cited the exemption to harassment found in Pennsylvania’s Crimes Code, and the judge dismissed the case, callously commenting that the parties wasted his time, according to the Inquirer story.  

An incident like this should never be allowed to occur again, and it won’t if state lawmakers support legislation sponsored by Representative Ron Marsico. The legislation, House Bill 874, which already has 73 co-sponsors, would repeal the exemptions in the crime code for stalking, harassment and threats made during the course of a labor dispute.

A similar bill made headway last year, but it ultimately failed to pass before the legislative session ended. However, with a new legislative session underway and momentum building for Rep. Marsico's legislation, it's only a matter of time before the General Assembly puts an end to these flagrant and unacceptable exemptions.

posted by BOB DICK | 11:21 AM | Comments

Taxpayers Deserve Transparent Government

MARCH 24, 2015

Government Transparency

Did you know the Wolf administration is in the process of negotiating contracts with some of the governor’s biggest campaign contributors? It’s true.

Government unions gave more than $2.6 million to Tom Wolf's gubernatorial campaign. Those same government unions will be sitting across the bargaining table from Gov. Wolf's representatives to hammer out new state contracts worth billions of dollars. In essence, Pennsylvania’s government unions helped elect their own boss. This political privilege is the product of the collective bargaining process

Given the unique nature of the collective bargaining process—a process that involves public officials negotiating over taxpayer funds with their political allies—transparency is a must. That is why Senator Aument’s legislation to open up the collective bargaining process to the public should be a reform supported by Pennsylvanians of all ideological stripes.

If taxpayers are required to pay for state contracts that necessitate raising taxes, why shouldn’t they have the ability to attend negotiations that will directly affect their bank accounts?  This is a commonsense proposal that would finally end the puzzling practice of holding contract negotiations in secret—negotiations that have vast implications for millions of people.

In the spirit of transparency, Representative Fred Keller has also introduced legislation that would require the posting of school district collective bargaining agreements online before a ratification vote takes place. This would give taxpayers—the major stakeholders in contract negotiations—the ability to weigh in on negotiations if they feel a deal is unfair.

Both of these reforms are worthwhile and would be in line with Gov. Wolf’s promise to make government more transparent. In fact, during the campaign, Gov. Wolf’s “Fresh Start” plan included this line: “...smarter management and more transparency and information on how state tax dollars are spent will ensure this revenue is stretched further.”

Gov. Wolf couldn't have made a better case for finally ending the secrecy surrounding the collective bargaining process. 

posted by BOB DICK | 11:30 AM | Comments

Protecting Pennsylvania's Excellent Teachers

MARCH 18, 2015

Shortly after graduation, Dominique took a job at one of Philadelphia’s most challenging turnaround high schools, University City. After one very successful year the district experienced significant layoffs and she saw many of her young colleagues—including one who had won a city distinguished teaching award—laid off. Dominique was so disheartened by the experience that she left University City.

Yesterday, Senator Ryan Aument and Representative Stephen Bloom introduced legislation to ensure that furlough decisions are based on actual job-performance, not simply years in the classroom.

Seniority rules mandate that teachers be placed and furloughed simply according to their years in the system, not how effective they are at instructing students. This results in the best teachers being left out in the cold, while those who are less effective, but longer tenured, are protected.

Rep. Bloom explains how seniority mandates are particularly harmful to low-income students:

Moreover, seniority-based layoffs disproportionately impact low-income and minority students. Schools serving primarily low-income and minority families often have higher concentrations of new teachers than more affluent schools. When seniority-based layoffs occur, these schools experience higher teacher turnover and lose many more faculty compared to other schools.

Favoring seniority over performance punishes the best teachers, not to mention the children in each classroom. Even one child deprived of a first-rate teacher is one child too many. 

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 11:30 AM | Comments

Gov. Wolf Authorizes New Union Money-Grab

MARCH 2, 2015

Pennsylvania's Government Unions

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order that effectively helps SEIU (Service Employees International Union) unionize home health care workers. Many of these workers are simply taking care of a family member or loved one, and have no connection to government employment.

This stealth unionization effort:

  • Allows SEIU or another union to organize Direct Care Workers.
  • Allows SEIU or another union to become the exclusive representative (monopoly) of home health care workers as the "Direct Care Worker Representative"
    • This election could be held with only 10 percent of home care workers signing up, far lower than the 30 percent threshold in the current labor law.
    • Moreover, the election of this exclusive representative would be conducted by the American Arbitration Association, not the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board which is the standard in all other cases.
  • Allows the Secretary of Human Services to negotiate with the "Direct Care Worker Representative" over compensation, procedures and voluntary payroll deductions.
  • The state would provide a list of all Direct Care Workers with their names and home addresses to help SEIU organize.

This executive order mirrors one attempted by Gov. Rendell in 2010. It was challenged in court by a coalition including the Pennsylvania Homecare Association and R.E.A.L. Home and Community-Based Services. After the Commonwealth Court issued an injunction, Gov. Rendell rescinded the order.

At the time, several care providers spoke out against the unilateral action:

"The Executive Order causes this one-on-one relationship to drastically change because a third party – a union – is being forced into it. This prevents me and other people with disabilities from fully taking control of our own lives"—Keith Williams, Community Organizer for the Northeast Pennsylvania Center for Independent Living (NEPA CIL) in Scranton

"We are very concerned that the names and addresses of consumer employers and their homecare attendants will be provided by the Commonwealth to unions for the purpose of recruiting membership."—William Kepner, Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Providers Coalition Association.

Similar efforts to quietly unionize home health care workers took place in Michigan and Illinois.

In Michigan, Robert and Patricia Haynes care for their adult children—Melissa, 34, and Kevin, 30—who suffer from hypertonic cerebral palsy. The Haynes family noticed some of the Medicaid dollars for their kids' care was being diverted to the coffers of the Service Employee International Union. The Haynes claimed they never voted to join a union. In fact, 80 percent of Michigan home health care workers did not vote in the election for union representation.

Over in Illinois, Pam Harris was disturbed by efforts to divert dollars from her son's care. Joshua has a rare genetic syndrome that causes severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. One Sunday morning in 2009 union representatives showed up unannounced at her home and asked her to join the SEIU. She declined, she wanted her checks to support Joshua’s care, not the union’s agenda.

Like the Haynes family and Pam Harris, many Pennsylvania families could soon see tax dollars skimmed from their needy family members to fund political candidates and election activity. Last election cycle, SEIU gave Tom Wolf nearly $1 million.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD, ELIZABETH STELLE | 05:31 PM | Comments

PA Union Campaign Contributions Exceed $10 Million

FEBRUARY 25, 2015

Pennsylvania government unions gave more than $10.5 million to candidates last election cycle. We updated our analysis of union political spending using the latest reports filed with the PA Department of State.

Total Pennsylvania Government Union PAC Spending for 2014 Election Cycle
Union 2013 2014 Total
Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA-PACE) $469,654 $2,711,333 $3,180,987
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) $115,309 $288,676 $403,985
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13 $541,093 $686,040 $1,227,133
AFSCME People $401,736 $1,123,506 $1,525,242
PA Service Employees International Union (SEIU)* $267,264 $2,144,011 $2,411,275
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 1776 $187,986 $206,944 $394,930
PA American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) $60,347 $93,715 $154,062
American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania (AFT-PA) $8,500 $33,300 $41,800
American Federation of Teachers (Washington, DC - National) $0 $1,057,315 $1,057,315
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT Pol Action Fund) $15,187 $56,438 $71,625
Total $2,067,075 $8,401,278 $10,468,353
*Includes political expenditures from PSSU Local SEIU 668 COPE Fund
Source: https://www.campaignfinanceonline.state.pa.us

Most of these campaign contributions were collected not by unions but with the help of you the taxpayer. State and local governments, along with school districts, deduct campaign contributions from the paychecks of employees, bundle it, and send the money onto union leaders.

Of course, this $10.5 million in direct campaign contributions is only the tip of the iceberg. Unions spend millions more each year on political activity from workers' dues—including contributions to SuperPACs, which run "independent" campaign ads supporting or attacking candidates.

Legislation ending the taxpayer collection of union political monies—known as paycheck protection or "Mary's Law"—is currently advancing through the state Senate.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 11:28 AM | Comments

Paycheck Protection Advances in the Senate

FEBRUARY 24, 2015

Teachers and government workers are one step closer to getting their voices back. Yesterday, members of the Senate State Government Committee passed a constitutional amendment version of paycheck protection. SB 500, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wagner, would end the use of taxpayer-funded resources to collect government union political money.

As a constitutional amendment, SB 500 requires passage in two consecutive legislative sessions and approval by voters. The bill is scheduled to be considered today by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The committee tabled discussion of SB 501, a statutory version of paycheck protection sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger.

These are critical first steps for reform in 2015, and we commend the bold champions in the House and Senate for making taxpayers their priority.

To learn more about paycheck protection and the need to give teachers like Mary a voice, check out our paycheck protection toolkit.

You can also send a message to your legislators in support of paycheck protection.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:36 PM | Comments

Committees Vote on Paycheck Protection, Liquor Privatization

FEBRUARY 23, 2015

Lawmakers took action in committees today on both liquor privatization and paycheck protection. Here's what's happened in Harrisburg:

Liquor privatization: This morning, the House Liquor Control Committee advanced HB 466, which would end the government monopoly on wine and liquor sales (wholesale and retail). This bill is sponsored by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai.

Paycheck protection: The Senate State Government Committee met today to discuss and vote on paycheck protection (SB 500, a constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Scott Wagner, and SB 501, sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger). Both would end the use of taxpayer resources to collect government union political money. SB 500 advanced from committee.

These are critical first steps for both reforms in 2015 and we praise the bold champions in the House and Senate for making taxpayers their priority.

Government unions are deploying their forces to keep their political privileges, so please join me now in voicing your support for the legislators standing up for taxpayers. Whether liquor privatization, paycheck protection, pension reform or spending limits—the time is now to set the agenda for 2015 and let Gov. Wolf know what taxpayers want the future of Pennsylvania to look like.

Click here to send your message on liquor privatization.

Then click here to send your message on paycheck protection.

posted by MATTHEW BROUILLETTE | 02:44 PM | Comments

No More Silent Treatment, Lehigh Commissioners Want Transparency

FEBRUARY 6, 2015

Government Transparency

Lehigh County commissioners are getting the silent treatment during labor contract negotiations, and they aren't happy about it

Reportedly, the current county executive, Tom Muller, refused leadership meetings with the commissioners chairman and vice-chairman, keeping silent on the progress of labor negotiations. How is this possible? In 1984, Lehigh County commissioners passed an ordinance directing the county executive to negotiate with county employee unions. Now, the comissioners are moving to take back responsibility for negotiation and bring more transparency to the process. 

Traditionally union negotiations throughout the state are anything but transparent. Taxpayers are left in the dark until a labor contract is approved.

At the state level, Gov. Tom Wolf will soon be negotiating with government union leaders over 16 expiring (or expired) contracts. These contracts cover almost 45,000 employees, with a total compensation of $3.37 billion. Given the enormous impact of these contracts on state spending and taxes, Gov. Wolf should fulfill his promise to give Pennsylvania a fresh start and ensure that these negotiations are as open and transparent as possible.

From Lehigh County to all of Pennsylvania, voters and taxpayers should have the opportunity to see contracts at every level of government before they are responsible for fulfilling them.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 03:46 PM | Comments

Teachers Denied the Right to Represent Themselves

FEBRUARY 5, 2015

Last week the Bethlehem Area School District approved a new labor contract that will force all teachers—even those who do not want the union's services—to pay the organization hundreds of dollars each year. Shortly after the vote, the Lehigh Valley Times editorial page argued that these so-called "fair share fees" are a good compromise. I responded with a letter arguing that teachers should have the freedom to decide who negotiates their salary.

The Jan. 30 editorial, "Fair share fees allow non-union teacher to have their cake and protest it, too," misses the fact that the Bethlehem Area Education Association's new obligation to represent non-union members such as Richard Coppock was not imposed on the union -- they actively negotiated for it. In other words, the district just allowed the union -- and its related state and national affiliates -- to confiscate Coppock's right to represent himself.

It's absurd that this power-grab is being twisted around to accuse Coppock of "free-riding." Coppock doesn't want something for nothing, he wants the ability to refuse all union benefits. Coppock's rights should not be sacrificed simply because he was in the minority.

The editorial goes on to say Coppock has the option to become a religious objector and, "donate the fee to a non-religious charity of their choosing." But the law actually says the charity must be "agreed upon by the nonmember and the [union]." The difference is more than semantics: Two Pennsylvania teachers are in the midst of lawsuit because the state teachers union has refused to allow their money to go to the non-religious charity of their choice.

Teachers must know their rights. FreetoTeach.org, a project of the Commonwealth Foundation where I work, offers clear and concise resources to let teachers make their own decisions -- a principle that the teachers' unions apparently ignore.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 09:05 AM | Comments

Mary's Law is Introduced

JANUARY 28, 2015

Paycheck protection legislation, known as "Mary’s Law," was officially introduced in the state House of Representatives as HB 238. With the backing of 39 co-sponsors, Mary’s Law seeks to end the taxpayer-funded collection of union political money.

Mary's Law is named after Mary Trometter, a PSEA member from Williamsport who saw the union use not only her dues, but her name in endorsing a candidate she didn't support. You can watch her story here.

Recently the PA Independent highlighted the questionable nature of the PSEA's political activities under current law, noting that the PSEA has been ignoring reporting requirements for 40 years.

Trometter filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in November. Her attorney, David Osborne of The Fairness Center, argues that the NEA letter and PSEA publications supporting Wolf’s candidacy are illegal under a 1970 state law.

The law says unions cannot use organization funds to make contributions in support of a political candidate, and they must report violations to the state within 90 days, he argued.

The PSEA and NEA responded that the letter and pro-Wolf material in a PSEA magazine are not contributions.

The passage of Mary’s Law is a matter of ethics, as Reps Cutler, Evankovich, and Knowles write in a recent op-ed. The bill would ensure that public resources are never used for politics and would empower union members by requiring union officials to directly seek support for political activities.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 01:03 PM | Comments

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