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.
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).
Government unions have not been reluctant to use their exclusive political privilege to finance candidates this election cycle.
According to an AP analysis, four of the top ten contributors to Tom Wolf's gubernatorial campaign are government unions, combining for nearly $2.5 million in donations to Wolf. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with supporting a candidate for office. In fact, it’s a right protected by the First Amendment.
The issue here is not candidates receiving union money, but that union leaders use taxpayers resources to collect their political money.
It's unfair to force taxpayers to subsidize the collection of money for political causes they find antithetical to their own values and beliefs.
It’s not fair that government unions are the only entities that have their political action committee (PAC) money and union dues, which can also be used for political purposes, collected at taxpayers' expense.
Despite the Senate's recent vote against paycheck protection, the fight to restore fairness and level the political playing field will continue.
By standing in the way of tens of millions of new dollars for Philadelphia classrooms, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) has revealed its true identity—a self-interested, self-serving interest group that fails teachers, fails students, and fails the poor.
Today, the Commonwealth Foundation launched PFTfails.com to inform the city of Philadelphia—as well as all Pennsylvanians across the state—about the failed track record of PFT leadership. Instead of working to improve the broken status quo, PFT executives use children and teachers as pawns to protect their political influence.
And make no mistake: the status quo has demonstrably failed in Philadelphia public schools. More than 80 percent of students did not achieve proficiency in both reading and math in 2013, according to the Nation’s Report Card. Violence remains a major problem in city schools, with 2,485 violent incidents reported during 2013-14. Despite the abysmal performance and violent conditions, PFT leaders oppose charter schools and tax credit scholarship programs for low-income families seeking better, safer education opportunities.
Construct a broken system, defend a broken system, and trap low-income families in the broken system. That’s the PFT playbook.
But it’s not just students and low-income families who are failed by union executives. PFT fails hard-working, high-performing Philadelphia teachers by clinging to rigid seniority mandates that can result in the best teachers being fired. What’s more, PFT refuses to embrace merit pay.
Why does PFT leadership stand in the way of higher salaries for excellent educators? Instead of encouraging and developing their best talent, PFT leaders oppose common sense reforms that would reward the most effective teachers and keep them in the classroom.
To make matters worse, the same teachers hurt by the PFT are forced to subsidize the PFT’s political agenda—whether the teachers agree with it or not. Philadelphia teachers are required to pay union dues or fair share fees—with an average annual cost exceeding $800—to various union affiliates just to keep their jobs.
Union executives take full advantage of their unique political privilege by spending dues at the astounding rate of $70,000 per minute on political television advertisements. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—the Washington D.C. based mothership of PFT—is primed to spend more on elections than ever before. This includes a recent gift of $500,000 financed by teachers' dues, and used for political attack ads via a ‘SuperPAC.’
All told, the PFT fails the entire city of Philadelphia by refusing to agree to health care concessions that would distribute an additional $54 million for classroom instruction in the current school year. Former Governor Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, and the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board all agree that this money belongs in the classrooms.
But the PFT refuses to compromise. Add it to the list of PFT failures. They fail us all when they put personal political scores ahead of what’s best for teachers, students, and the poor.
Thanks to your voices, yesterday afternoon the state Senate suddenly voted on an aspect of "paycheck protection." Senator Scott Wagner proposed an amendment yesterday that would end the taxpayer-funded collection of union political money in school districts.
This was the first full floor vote in the movement for paycheck protection and 20 bold senators stood up to powerful special interests to proclaim that taxpayer resources should never be used for politics.
|Richard Alloway||John Gordner||Elder Vogel|
|David Argall||Scott Hutchinson||Randy Vulakovich|
|Lisa Baker||Dominic Pileggi||Scott Wagner|
|Mike Brubaker||Robert Robbins||Kim Ward|
|Jake Corman||Joseph Scarnati||Donald White|
|John Eichelberger||Lloyd Smucker||Gene Yaw|
|Mike Folmer||Patricia Vance|
Thank you, senators!
While the amendment fell short, this is just a disappointment—not a setback—for the movement for ending the taxpayer-funded collection of union political money. Today was the last voting day before the election, but legislators can return to the Capitol until November 30 to take care of unfinished business.
Clearly, work remains to convince some lawmakers to support a position held by 79 percent of voters—and 72% of union members—that union leaders, not government, should collect political money and campaign contributions, so continue to make your voice heard to your lawmakers.
The full vote count is below.
|Alloway, Richard L. (R)||Yes||Gordner, John R. (R)||Yes||Stack, Michael J. (D)||No|
|Argall, David G. (R)||Yes||Greenleaf, Stewart (R)||No||Tartaglione, Christine (D)||No|
|Baker, Lisa (R)||Yes||Hughes, Vincent J. (D)||No||Teplitz, Rob (D)||No|
|Blake, John P. (D)||No||Hutchinson, Scott (R)||Yes||Tomlinson, Robert (R)||No|
|Boscola, Lisa M. (D)||No||Kasunic, Richard A (D)||No||Vance, Patricia H. (R)||Yes|
|Brewster, James R. (D)||No||Kitchen, Shirley (D)||No||Vogel, Elder A. (R)||Yes|
|Browne, Patrick M. (R)||No||Leach, Daylin (D)||No||Vulakovich, Randy (R)||Yes|
|Brubaker, Mike (R)||Yes||McIlhinney, Charles (R)||Absent||Wagner, Scott (R)||Yes|
|Corman, Jake (R)||Yes||Mensch, Bob (R)||No||Ward, Kim L. (R)||Yes|
|Costa, Jay (D)||No||Pileggi, Dominic (R)||Yes||Washington, LeAnna (D)||Absent|
|Dinniman, Andrew (D)||No||Rafferty, John C. (R)||No||White, Donald C. (R)||Yes|
|Eichelberger, John (R)||Yes||Robbins, Robert (R)||Yes||Wiley, Sean (D)||No|
|Erickson, Edwin B. (R)||No||Scarnati, Joseph (R)||Yes||Williams, Anthony (D)||No|
|Farnese, Lawrence (D)||No||Schwank, Judith (D)||No||Wozniak, John N. (D)||No|
|Ferlo, Jim (D)||No||Smith, Matt (D)||No||Yaw, Gene (R)||Yes|
|Folmer, Mike (R)||Yes||Smucker, Lloyd K. (R)||Yes||Yudichak, John T. (D)||No|
|Fontana, Wayne D. (D)||No||Solobay, Timothy J. (D)||No|
The recent decision by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) to cancel the school district's contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT)—and require teachers to pay up to 13 percent of their health care premium—has been met with stunning hyperbole from both state and national union leaders.
According to the SRC, this will save $54 million this school year alone—money that can go back into the schools—and upwards of $70 million each year thereafter. Yet PFT President Jerry Jordan compared the SRC action to treating teachers like "indentured servants."
With an average teacher salary of nearly $71,000, though, it would be hard to mistake a Philadelphia teacher for a forced laborer—especially when the average household income is $37,000 in the city. Indeed, average Philly teacher salaries are higher than their counterparts in Chester ($63,600) and Delaware ($68,600) counties, and are not far behind those in Montgomery ($76,600) and Bucks ($80,900).
Keep in mind that the only change the SRC is making is asking teachers to pay part of their health care costs. The decision to impose modest premium sharing comes after years of deadlocked negotiations with the PFT leaders, who refused to budge one inch when it comes to health care payments.
Philadelphia teachers currently do not pay for their health benefits, and even under the new plan would pay far less than the average working Pennsylvanian, who pays 20 percent for individual or 23 percent for family coverage.
Is the PFT really concerned with protecting teachers, or maintaining its slush fund (the PFT "Health and Welfare Fund") which currently administers the health care plans?
Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—the Washington, DC-based mother-ship of the PFT— had an equally alarmist response to the SRC, calling their decision "the most egregiously political action I’ve seen in a school district."
Weingarten would know. Given her union's heavy involvement in Pennsylvania politics, she is an experienced political activist.
Both the AFT and PFT have taken full advantage of their unique political privileges to spend massive sums of money canvassing and cheerleading for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf. In early September, the PFT spent $70,000 for one minute of television advertising attacking Gov. Tom Corbett during an Eagles football game.
Surely $70,000 per minute could go a long way toward health care premiums—if the PFT were more interested in promoting the interests of its members than using forced dues to influence elections.
Furthermore, the AFT gave $500,000—directly from union dues—to the PA Families First 'Super PAC,' which has been on the air further promoting the lie that Gov. Corbett cut state education funding. All told, AFT is poised to spend more in 2014 than in any other election cycle.
Years of mismanagement, lagging academic performance, and declining enrollment have left Philadelphia in the unenviable position of making difficult choices to keep its schools financially viable. Union leaders are pretending to defend teachers with their rhetoric, but their actions demonstrate how they are exploiting teachers for political gain.
High-performing educators—and the children they teach—deserve better from union leadership. Given the PFT's refusal to negotiate in good faith for nearly two years, the SRC's action is a reasonable, necessary step for the School District of Philadelphia—despite the loaded rhetoric from hyper-political union bosses.
Three union-affiliated groups released a report alleging that Pennsylvania charter schools defrauded taxpayers to the tune of $30 million since 1997. Predictably, this story has been greeted with glee from defenders of the education status-quo and those who oppose school choice. The union-backed report ultimately calls for a moratorium on new charter schools.
Try making that argument to the thousands of Pennsylvania families currently on charter waiting lists.
Increased transparency and accountability for all public schools—both charters and traditional district schools—should be welcomed with open arms. But the findings from this particular report must be met with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Government unions consistently fight tooth and nail to prevent the authorization of new charter schools—if for no other reason than to maximize the number of dues-paying teachers. They would rather maintain their political influence than let children find a better or safer school via school choice, and they cannot be trusted to provide impartial research on charters.
Of course, government unions are welcome to commission studies and engage in the political arena. We at the Commonwealth Foundation simply prefer they do so without forced dues collected at taxpayer expense.
Charters are already asked to do more with less, as they receive less money per student than traditional public schools. Now government union-funded research organizations are demanding that charters be held to significantly higher standards as well. Charter schools that fail to perform academically or suffer from financial mismanagement can be shut down, whereas school districts are never held accountable.
Where are the calls for a moratorium on district schools when one of their financial scandals makes the news? How about in the event of sexual abuse in a public school? Demanding charter schools be effectively shut down, while ignoring fraud and abuse in traditional public schools, fails to put the needs of students first.
Charter reforms, like those in SB 1085, would make them more accountable and transparent while also expanding choice across the commonwealth.
A moratorium on new charters, though, would only punish thousands of families seeking a better academic future.
How can school funding be "slashed" yet "technically rise"?
Take a look at this excerpt from a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, (emphasis mine):
Education funding to public schools has been slashed by more than $1 billion on the current governor's watch, noted Stephanie Robinson, a teacher at Barry Elementary in West Philadelphia. (Corbett, who has repeatedly publicly blasted PFT members for not contributing toward their health insurance, maintains that he has granted record amounts of aid to city schools. But, PFT and other opponents contend that although technically school aid under Corbett has risen above Rendell-era levels, the rise is minimal...)
The Inquirer piece notes, for instance, that the political action committee of Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers gave $100,000 to Tom Wolf between May 6 and June 9 alone. According to the most recent campaign finance reports, the Pennsylvania State Education Assocation gave him another $200,000.
Unions have invested heavily in commercials and newspaper ads promulgating the myth that Gov. Tom Corbett cut a billion dollars in education funding. In fact, the PA Families First "SuperPAC", which we highlighted before, has been running election-related TV ads spreading the "$1 billion cut" lie. Not coincidently, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Assocation recently gave $1 million to PA Families First, directly from union dues.
Of course, education funding cannot be "slashed" and "technically rise" at the same time. Only one can be true. And the truth is that state education spending is at an all-time high.
But as long as union leaders are willing to cut million dollar checks promoting their billion dollar myth, it’s no surprise a teacher from West Philadelphia is unclear about the facts.
Jane Ladley was a special education teacher in Chester County for more than 25 years until she retired this year. She may have left teaching, but she has a bone to pick with the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the union that represents some 180,000 educators around the state.
In a landmark step, Ladley and Lancaster County teacher Chris Meier sued the PSEA for violating their rights as "religious objectors." It's the first case for newly established public interest law firm, the Fairness Center.
Ladley and Meier are fee payers—teachers who don't officially join the union, but by contract rules and state law are forced to pay a "fair share fee" to the union to cover representation. However, both teachers became religious objectors who, because their faith conflicts with union support of policies such as abortion, decided to have their fee instead donated to a charity.
In this case, both teachers got stuck in limbo. The PSEA accepted their religious objections, but have nixed the charities the teachers chose. Christen Smith from Capitolwire (paywall) reported on Ladley's experience:
“I first chose a scholarship in our local community for students who showed an interest in the Constitution, which is definitely close to my heart,” she said in editorial submitted to newspapers by her attorney, Nate Bohlander, assistant general counsel for the Harrisburg-based Fairness Center. “They looked at the organization sponsoring it and said they would not agree to it based on it being a political group.”
Ladley said she searched for another charity with a similar mission — she chose one that offers classes on the Constitution, instead — but the PSEA hasn't approved it to date, either.
“They are telling me which groups I have to choose,” she said. “It’s a wrong that needs to be righted. I’m doing this on principle and for the other teachers coming up through the ranks, so that they have these options available to them.”
The PSEA has 20 days from the filing of the lawsuit (September 18) to respond.
According to the Fairness Center, the PSEA is exploiting a loophole in Pennsylvania law that effectively silences teachers: The 1988 agency shop law requires the money to go to a "non-religious charity" both union and teacher agree on, but doesn't prescribe a procedure or deadline to reach that agreement.
Ladley says the amount of money at stake or whether she's still in the classroom is irrelevant. "Why should I have to fund an organization that counters my faith and values so I can work as a teacher?" she said. Even if only future Pennsylvania teachers see their rights better protected, for her, it's worth the fight.
An astounding 93 percent of union members had no role in choosing the union currently representing them, according to a new report authored by Dr. Daniel DiSalvo of the Manhattan Institute.
This really shouldn't come as a surprise given the rarity of union recertification elections, which deny union members the opportunity to vote for or against their union. Never mind that 77 percent of union households support periodic recertification elections.
Dr. DiSalvo's report exposes a pattern of antidemocratic behavior and rules within union organizations, finding unions to be democratic only on a superficial level. Here are just four of his findings supporting his contention:
Very few members vote in standard union-leadership elections (turnout is often below 20 percent; in one recent New York City public-sector union election, turnout was 4 percent).
Those who do vote are not representative of the membership as a whole (with older workers voting at higher rates, thus skewing, for example, union policies on the importance of pensions relative to wages).
Incumbent leaders often go unchallenged for long periods, sometimes “anointing” chosen successors (who then anoint another generation) instead of fostering genuine contests.
Unions, especially at the state and national level, often take political positions with which a substantial number of members disagree (thus forcing those members to pay, with their dues, for the advocacy of policies that they do not support).
This last point is one which CF has covered repeatedly. In Pennsylvania—a forced union state—union members can be required to subsidize organizations with political views antithetical to their beliefs. To make matters worse, these dues used for politics are collected with taxpayer resources, an unfair political privilege afforded only to government unions.
How democratic is an organization that forces you to become a member on condition of employment, refuses to give members the opportunity to vote on its legitimacy, and forces members to pay for political causes they may not support?
In an effort to make unions more democratic, Dr. DiSalvo suggests a number of reforms including publicizing electoral procedures and reporting election results, instituting online voting, and ending the practice of requiring union members to pay for political advocacy they don't support.
While the efficacy of these reforms and others is up for debate, one thing is clear: the current system of unionization is far from democratic.
Illinois’s decision to terminate its lottery private management agreement with Northstar is being misinterpreted as proof that Pennsylvania dodged a bullet by failing to approve a private lottery management agreement. The truth is, Pennsylvania’s contract better protected taxpayers and those served by lottery programs.
Pennsylvania’s negotiated contract required Camelot, the management company, to pay penalties if they did not meet guaranteed revenues. In fact, Camelot placed $200 million in a reserve fund to cover shortfalls.
Illinois's experiment was not without benefits. Even though Northstar did not meet yearly revenue goals, the state's taxpayers are still better off. Illinois' lottery grew faster under private management, an estimated 12 percent per year compared to 3 percent a year prior to their contract.
In contrast, Pennsylvania's Lottery sales have increased by only 5.8 percent per year, and net revenue has grown by only 4.2 percent per year over the past 3 years. In other words, Illinois' "failure" has resulted in sales growth twice as high as Pennsylvania's "succesful" lottery program.
At the same time, Indiana's lottery private management arrangement is succeeding. Contractor GTECH missed this years revenue goal by $1.6 million, but under the 15-year contract it must pay the difference to the state. That’s a win for taxpayers and those served by lottery programs.
Overall, GTECH's management of the lottery brought in total revenue of more than $1 billion in fiscal year 2014, up 9 percent from the previous record two years ago. GTECH's work will allow the lottery to provide nearly $250.7 million in surplus revenue to the state for the 12-month period that ended in June.
In the end, the greatest advantage of these partnerships is accountability. Illinois terminated its agreement with Northstar because the company did not meet its performance goals.
But as noted, Illinois and Indiana's private lottery manager outperformed Pennsylvania! Unfortunately, thanks to an intense lobbying effort from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), funded by union dues, Pennsylvania taxpayers and senior citizens won't be able to enjoy the benefits of improved management.
Should workers be penalized for leaving a union? 81 percent of Pennsylvanians say "no."
So why hasn't a policy change happened to free workers from having to pay a private organization they disagree with just to keep their jobs?
CF President Matt Brouillette joined The David Madeira Show to discuss this important issue.
The David Madeira Show airs daily and can be streamed live at www.thedavidmadeirashow.com
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