Unions & Labor Policy

Paycheck Protection Primer

January 29, 2016 | Commentary by Commonwealth Foundation

Paycheck protection ends the use of public resources to collect government unions’ political money.

Under current law, state and local governments (including school districts) take both union dues—a portion of which is used for politics—and campaign contributions out of workers’ paycheck and send the funds directly to union leaders.

Paycheck protection will benefit union members, protect taxpayers, and has bipartisan support.

APSCUF Threatens Faculty

OCTOBER 19, 2016

This morning, APSCUF, the union representing 5,000 faculty at the State System of Higher Education schools, went on strike.

As we pointed out a few weeks ago, one of the sticking points in contact negotiations is APSCUF’s health care demands. Despite being offered a 12 percent pay increase, the union refuses to accept modest cost-sharing for health insurance. Nevermind that the proposed cost-sharing is far more generous than what most workers in the private sector receive from their employers.

To enforce discipline, APSCUF leadership has threatened faculty who don’t agree with the strike.

As reported by Fox43, here is an email sent from an APSCUF chapter president—using his university email address—to faculty, implying anyone choosing to work during the strike would be “forever” labeled a “scab” (emphasis added):

This is probably the last EMAIL you will receive from me using the SRU addresses.  We begin using off-campus address today.

Dear Colleagues but especially to those who are unsure if they will work during the strike,

Personally I hate being told what to do by anyone – be they presidents of universities or unions.  But at the risk of being too direct, I want to help you in your decision-making if you are thinking about working during the strike, also known as “crossing the picket lines.”

IF YOU CROSS THE PICKET LINE you will be effectively saying to your colleagues on the line that you disrespect the sacrifice they are making in terms of making a stand and going without pay and benefits.  You would be effectively prolonging the strike by continuing to work so the administration can maintain a fig leaf of “business as usual.”  By your actions you are saying that you choose to continue to enjoy pay and benefits hard-fought by colleagues over the decades, but will not do your part NOW to take a stand to defend those benefits.   You are effectively saying to the SSHE that their proposals are OK with you to:

 *   Cut pay of our adjunct faculty (25% of our colleagues)
 *   Give up the concept of shared governance
 *   Be reassigned any time as needed by administration
 *   Have reduced say in tenure, sabbatical and promotion decisions
 *   Work for little or no net pay increase

If you decide to work during the strike, i.e., cross the picket line, you will be faced with:

 *   Colleagues who will try to convince you not to cross the line
 *   Peer rejection
 *   Being publicly identified as a “Scab” (strikebreaker) forever

What makes this university a great place to work is our colleagues.  We look out for each other, we respect each other, we defer to each other, we support each other, and we value each other.  This collegial atmosphere is a two-edged sword.  If one betrays his or her colleagues, the reaction could be negative.  Strikes are unpleasant – relationships can be harmed long-term.  If we have a brief strike, do you want to be branded by your colleagues forever as one of the few who crossed the picket line?  I don’t recommend it.

Sorry for the negative tone of this message, but I want it to be clear to faculty who are considering working during the strike that they will potentially face negative judgement by colleagues.  If we are solid and unified, a strike will be brief.  Plan to honor the picket lines and stand with us.

In solidarity,




posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 02:49 PM | Comments

Top Ten Recipients of Government Union Contributions

SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

Election season is in full swing, but so is the fall legislative session. This time of year elected officials walk a narrow line to avoid the illegal practice of using public resources for politics. Yet, public resources are used all-year round to funnel union dues and campaign contributions from workers' paychecks to union leaders.

Since 2010, PSEA, AFSCME 13, SEIU, UFCW and PFT unions have contributed $18 million from Political Action Committees (PAC). These same unions reported spending $40 million on "political activities and lobbying" using union dues. A significant chunk of PAC money is donated to state legislator's campaigns. The following Pennsylvania elected officials are the largest recipients of government union PAC contributions.

It's time to end this unfair use of public resources to collect political money by passing paycheck protection. Paycheck protection strengthens the rights of all government workers, giving them power over their own money and choice of political association.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 11:11 AM | Comments

New Labor Contracts Will Add to Taxpayers' Burden

SEPTEMBER 28, 2016

New union contracts will make state government more expensive, according to two analyses released by the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO).

The IFO projects contracts negotiated by the Wolf Administration with the state’s two largest unions—AFSCME and SEIU—will cost taxpayers an additional $507 million over three years.

Thanks to Act 15 of 2016 (and then Act 100, which added the new language to the Administrative Code), the IFO must review all proposed collective bargaining agreements before they take effect.

Prior to this law, neither lawmakers nor the public knew the true cost of these contracts.

In the near term, the contracts will add to the state’s challenging fiscal predicament. The current budget is “balanced” by borrowing money and counting on unreliable revenue from harmful tax increases and other changes to state law.

Add to this the additional costs of the new contracts, which will require an estimated $61.4 million more in General Fund spending (plus another $100 million in other funds) in 2017-18, and Pennsylvania’s budget picture now looks even bleaker.

Note, in addition to the cost estimates calculated by the IFO, the Office of Administration estimates the savings due to higher employee health care contributions would be $4.7 million for SEIU and $13.6 million for AFSCME. The IFO says each of these is “a reasonable estimate.”

Currently, the wage base (not including benefits) of affected workers is $1.835 billion. The IFO represents the increase in costs, both salary and benefits, above this baseline resulting from the new contracts.

The IFO did not consider savings from administrative changes to the PA Employees Benefit Trust Fund (PEBTF), as these savings are irrespective of the union contracts.

The lack of legislative oversight over the collective bargaining process is a glaring problem. This is why Rep. Garth Everett is sponsoring HB 2289. The legislation, which passed the House State Government committee just yesterday, would give the General Assembly the authority to rescind state labor contracts negotiated by the governor. 

The proposal would provide a much needed check on the governor, who has the power to negotiate contracts with campaign contributors behind closed doors

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 08:08 AM | Comments

Wolf’s Union Agenda Loses Big in Court

SEPTEMBER 22, 2016

David Smith and Donald Lambrecht were up against a powerful foe: Gov. Wolf and an executive order that granted a sweetheart deal to a union at their expense. In a huge win, the Commonwealth Court today issued a ruling invalidating Wolf’s executive order unionizing home care workers.

Shortly after he took office, Wolf handed down an executive order that would have let the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) unionize thousands of home health care workers in Pennsylvania—and take millions of dollars in union dues each year from their paychecks.

Most of these home health care workers are taking care of a family member or loved one. This order would have wreaked havoc on the relationships between recipients and providers—while padding union pockets.

We’ve shared the story before of Dave and his home care provider, Don. Homebound with muscular dystrophy, Dave has relied on Don for more than 25 years. Far beyond an employer-employee relationship, Dave and Don are like family. Wolf’s order would have forced Don to unionize against Dave, effectively stripping Dave of many of his rights as an employer.

With the help of the Fairness Center, Dave and Don challenged Wolf’s order in court. Today’s ruling, which is in a similar case challenging the same executive order, is a victory for Dave, Don, and thousands of other home care providers and recipients across the commonwealth.

Beyond the overreach of the order, the deal was particularly suspicious considering the cozy relationship between Wolf and the SEIU. As we noted in a previous blog:

Michael Brunelle, the former executive director of SEIU's PA State Council, is now special assistant to the governor and regularly collaborates with his former employer. Emails between Mr. Brunelle and union officials show the administration sharing news releases, talking points, and other documents before they are published.

…Most worrisome is the collusion over a controversial executive order.

SEIU officials helped draft an executive order that enabled SEIU and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees) to rapidly unionize tens of thousands of home health care workers—and deduct union dues from their paychecks. These dues can be spent on political activity and lobbying to push the governor's agenda.

What’s more, AFSME and SEIU were two of Governor Wolf’s largest campaign contributors during the 2014 election cycle.

Wolf’s executive order was a stealth attempt to help the unions collect millions of dollars. Now, we can add one more court-approved word to describe the order: illegal.

posted by GINA DIORIO | 03:20 PM | Comments

Teachers' Union Deceives on Dues Donations

SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

Last week, the Commonwealth Court ordered the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to investigate Mary Trometter's allegation that the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) used her union dues to support Tom Wolf's run for governor.

That's illegal in Pennsylvania, according to section 1701 of the Public Employee Relations Act, but it hasn't stopped government unions from pouring dues money into politics.

PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever denied his union engages in politics, stating to the Associated Press:

“The truth is no dues dollars are contributed to political candidates or spent on public communications about candidates. Communicating with members and their families is not the same as contributing to candidates." 

But Keever's "truth" isn't as it seems. Union dues deducted from teachers’ paychecks go to local unions, the PSEA, and the National Education Association (NEA) via the PSEA.

Since 2013, the NEA has sent $36 million from union dues to the NEA Advocacy Fund (the NEA’s SuperPAC). This fund supports presidential candidates, like Hillary Clinton, and other SuperPACs, like Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform—which ran multiple attack ads influencing last year’s Pa. Supreme Court race. The NEA Advocacy Fund also funded the political ads of America Works USA, an arm of the Democratic Governors Association.

National affiliates aside, the PSEA admits spending dues on politics and lobbying. Here's the fine print from their member magazine:

In 2015, PSEA reported sending $14,000 in union dues to Governor Wolf’s Inaugural Committee and about $85,000 to partisan and left-wing groups such as Keystone Progress and Keystone Research Center.

The PSEA Voice magazine also glowing endorses candidates, like Rob McCord and Tom Wolf, and union email correspondence consistently attacks legislative reforms that would benefit their members.

Based on their own reports to the U.S. Department of Labor, the PSEA and many other government unions use union dues for political activities:

Union members should know their hard-earned paychecks are being spent on political activities—without their permission. Voluntary PAC contributions are one thing. Forcing teachers to fund political causes they don’t support is another. It’s wrong, and it’s illegal. It’s time PSEA officials come clean about their abuse of teachers and taxpayers.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 03:42 PM | Comments

Teacher Shortages Haunt Philly Students

SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

Philadelphia's teacher shortage is making headlines, and city council is demanding the district solve the problem. A classroom without a permanent teacher is certainly unfair to students, yet Philadelphia teachers are regularly pulled out of classrooms to work full time for the teachers' union.

Each year, up to 63 district employees may be plucked from Philadelphia's classroom to do full-time union work on the taxpayers dime.

These employees, known as "ghost teachers," aren't unique to Philadelphia. Across the state, dozens of teachers and other school district employees are absent from the classroom. Instead, they work full-time jobs with the local teachers’ union. These teachers stay on district payroll, receive health benefits, amass pension credits, and accrue seniority, just as if they were actually teaching

There are about 84 vacancies in Philadelphia and 16 teachers on full-time union leave. Requiring ghost teachers to come back to the classroom is one way to quickly shrink vacancies.

Ultimately, lawmakers should end Pennsylvania's ghost teaching problem by passing HB 2125. The bill would ban ghost teaching with two exceptions: extended leave for statewide teacher union officers and 15 days of annual release time for all other teachers. This reform would also require the unions to reimburse every cent associated with the cost of absent teachers.

Students deserve more than ghost teachers who never show up for class, and taxpayers deserve more than paying for an empty teacher’s desk.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 09:40 AM | Comments

Faculty Benefits Driving Up Tuition Costs


APSCUF—the union representing faculty at state-owned universities—has begun a vote to authorize a strike.

One of APSCUF's complaints with the proposed contract is higher health care expenses. In a recent email to faculty members, APSCUF touted the fact that employees would now have a deductible with their health insurance plans--$250 for singles and $500 for families. That is, their current contract offers a ZERO deductible.

In contrast, the average deductible nationwide for employer-provided coverage is more than $1,300 for single coverage and more than $2,000 for family coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Likewise, APSCUF is complaining about out-of-pocket limits on health care since employees currently pay $0 out-of-pocket. The proposed contract would limit out-of-pocket expenses to $1,000 for single coverage and $2,000 for family coverage.

Nationwide, 83 percent of employee-sponsored individual plans have an out of pocket maximum of more than $2,000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

If students and parents wonder why tuition costs so much, they should look to faculty health care benefits that are out of whack compared to the private sector.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 03:59 PM | Comments

Transparency Improves the Collective Bargaining Process


On August 30, Secretary of Administration Sharon Minnich announced the details of a new three-year labor agreement between the Wolf Administration and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

In previous years, details of an agreement would rarely, if ever, be released until after it was approved by both parties. However, with the passage of Senate Bill 644 (now Act 15), the commonwealth must provide the Independent Fiscal Office with the details and costs of state collective bargaining agreements before they’re ratified. The change allows the IFO to offer an independent assessment and gives Pennsylvanians a chance to review the contracts before they are stuck with the bill.

According to an Office of Administration (OA) press release, the major provisions of the AFSCME contract include a change to the rules governing public employee healthcare and a 7.25 percent wage increase over three years. However, this increase is understated. Over the three year contract, employees will experience five wage increases, boosting the average pay for an AFSCME employee by 12.31 percent.

OA puts the total cost of AFSCME’s contract at $292.4 million or $97.5 million annually. The total cost would have been higher if the Wolf Administration did not negotiate healthcare concessions with AFSCME. This change saved taxpayers $13.6 million, according to OA estimates.

If the deal is approved, lawmakers will need to figure out how to pay for the additional costs mandated by the contracts. Pennsylvania is already facing a $264 million deficit this year and will likely need to make significant policy changes to balance the budget next year. Adding nearly $100 million in labor costs annually will make lawmakers’ jobs even harder.

Anticipating this problem, Rep. Garth Everett introduced HB 2289, which empowers the legislature to either approve or disapprove of state collective bargaining agreements. The bill would provide a much needed check on the collective bargaining process, which generally operates outside public view and involves government unions negotiating with the same officials they help elect to office.

Rep. Everett’s legislation and a requirement to post school district teacher contracts before they’re ratified—Senate Bill 645, would further enhance transparency and oversight of the bargaining process.

posted by BOB DICK | 11:14 AM | Comments

Understanding Your School District’s Labor Contract

AUGUST 17, 2016

CF reviewed labor contracts in each of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts and uncovered several interesting findings. These contracts, known as collective bargaining agreements, are negotiated behind closed doors between local teachers’ unions and school boards. They include routine information about salaries and benefits, but the contracts also outline maintenance of membership clauses, fair share fees, and ghost teacher arrangements.

Click here for a searchable database of labor contract provisions for each district.

Most notably:

  • Teachers in 62 percent of districts are trapped in their unions by maintenance of membership clauses, which stipulate teachers may only exit a union during a specific time period—often just days—near the expiration of a contract.
  • Nearly 4 in 5 school districts require non-union members to pay fair share fees to the union. These teachers are forced to pay more than 80 percent of traditional dues to the union, even though they have chosen not to be members.
  • More than 9 in 10 labor contracts include release time language, allowing school employees to attend union conventions, serve as union delegates, or conduct union business. Release time also establishes the basis for ghost teachers, whereby school employees accrue seniority, receive taxpayer-funded salary, and amass pension benefits, all while conducting full-time work for the union, a private organization. Read more about ghost teachers.

These provisions tilt the playing field toward teachers’ unions at the expense of students, teachers, and taxpayers alike.

Read our policy brief for an overview of surprising provisions in collective bargaining agreements, and check out this searchable database to learn about your school district’s labor contract.

posted by JAMES PAUL, JESSICA BARNETT | 09:00 AM | Comments

Union Demands vs. Fiscal Realities

JUNE 30, 2016

One government union’s insatiable appetite for more tax dollars has hit a brick wall.

The Wolf Administration is in the process of negotiating a contract with the state’s largest union—the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees Council 13 (AFCSME). The current contract expires at midnight, and it’s highly unlikely a deal will be reached before then.

AFSCME agreed to postpone negotiations because the sides could not reach an agreement. According to AFSCME, the Wolf Administration would not sign off on proposed wage increase and wants members to contribute more to their health benefits. The administration is making these requests in light of the state’s precarious fiscal position.

The costs of public employee compensation is exploding. Benefits are particularly out of control. They’ve risen by more than 71 percent over the last 10 years. Benefits for AFSCME members make up about 44 percent of their total compensation (see page 21). In the private sector, the average is 34 percent.

The growing costs of pensions factor into the dramatic rise in compensation, but health care costs are part of the picture as well. According to the Office of Administration, public employees pay 11.7 percent for their healthcare. The private sector average is 20 percent. To their credit, the Wolf Administration wants to reduce this inequality by requiring employees to pay more for their coverage.

The governor should continue to stand firm and protect taxpayers—especially as the legislature debates a bloated budget that will probably require tax hikes. Capitulating to AFSCME now will only compound this problem.

Fortunately, the public will have an opportunity to review the labor contract before the deal is approved.

posted by BOB DICK | 04:35 PM | Comments

Total Records: 351

Media contact:

(O) 717-671-1901

Who are We?

The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.  The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.