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).

The Law Should Not Condone Violence

JULY 21, 2015

Yesterday, Ironworkers Local 401 union leader Joseph Dougherty was given a 19 year prison sentence for encouraging sabotage and intimidation to advance his union’s interests.

The judge in the case offered a scathing rebuke of Dougherty and an indictment of tolerance for union violence in Pennsylvania:

Comparing Dougherty to Lady Macbeth, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson chastised the 73-year-old business manager for acting behind the scenes and relying on "an army of ironworkers" to commit crimes for him.

"That's the real tragedy of this case," Baylson said. "His leadership led to a lot of damage. It led to a lot of crimes. It continued the bad reputation Philadelphia has for tolerating union violence."

Incredibly, other union leaders continue to support Dougherty. Anyone reading the facts of this case should be appalled, not celebrating or supporting Dougherty with rallies.

Speaking to his union subordinates, Dougherty repeatedly referred to nonunion contractors as "subhuman" and "pigs."

"You should be able to do whatever you want to them, and it should be legal," he said on one recording. "There shouldn't be a crime."

Still, argued Dougherty lawyer Mark Cedrone, there was no proof that his client ordered - or even knew about - many of the attacks union members carried out on construction sites across the region.

That list included some of the most high-profile incidents in the city's recent history, such as the 2012 arson of a Quaker meetinghouse in Chestnut Hill, the baseball-bat beatings of nonunion workers outside a King of Prussia Toys R Us in 2010, and an all-out brawl in 2013 between ironworkers and members of the Carpenters union. …

Members rose through the ranks by participating in goon squads that struck back at contractors who refused to hire their union ironworkers. One group openly referred to itself as "the Helpful Union Guys" - "T.H.U.G.S." for short.

While Dougherty may not have participated in or ordered all of attacks, Livermore said, he rewarded his union's saboteurs with plum job assignments and his support for elected union posts.

The violence and sabotage are an all too real part of labor disputes in Pennsylvania. And yet, inexplicably, Pennsylvania law carves out exemptions for hostile and aggressive behavior if the behavior occurs during the midst of a labor dispute.

That’s not a typo. While state law rightly criminalizes harassment, stalking, and threats involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD), “a party to a labor dispute”—including labor union leaders—are exempt. There is no plausible justification for tolerating stalking, harassment, or threating to use WMDs on another person.

Readers may think this is just some crazy, archaic law we never fixed—like laws preventing carrying an ice cream cone in your back pocket. Reality paints a different picture. The exemptions were created relatively recently, and they have been used to excuse union violence.

Take the case of Sarina Rose who, along with her young children, suffered harassment and was threatened by union members. Yet, a judge dismissed the case, citing the exemptions in the law, essentially saying this kind of behavior is to be expected when dealing with unions.   

It’s pretty clear we need to get serious about ending a culture that accepts violence or threats of violence as just the cost of doing business.  

It starts by passing HB 874, which moved out of the state House in April. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ron Marsico, ends the ability of labor disputants to stalk, harass, and threaten with impunity.

The bill currently sits on the Senate floor, awaiting action. 

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 10:18 AM | Comments

Gov. Wolf Does Understand Economics

JULY 6, 2015

Last Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed legislation passed by the general assembly that would allow private retailers to sell wine and liquor. As my colleague Bob pointed out, his reasons don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Others have noted the inconsistencies and lack of rational thought in Gov. Wolf's veto message. Jacob Sullum, writing for Reason, points out

The prediction of higher prices is not only inconsistent with basic economic principles and the experiences of the three dozen or so states that already have private liquor sales. It is also inconsistent with another major argument used by opponents of privatization, who say abolishing the state monopoly will lead to more drinking and more alcohol abuse.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board contrasts Wolf’s claim with the experience in neighboring states, where most Pennsylvanians actually shop for lower prices and better selection

But in written remarks Thursday, the governor claimed the bill made "bad business sense," saying it would mean "selling an asset and risking higher prices and less selection for consumers." Apparently, he's never had the far-better experience of buying a bottle of wine to go with dinner ingredients or the vast selection of adult beverages that is available across the state’s borders in New York, Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey and Maryland.

Jonathan Adler, writing on the Volokh Conspiracy blog of the Washington Post, makes a mockery of Wolf’s veto message.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf vetoed the legislation, claiming allowing private wine and liquor sales would lead to "higher prices and less selection" for consumers. No, really. That was the explanation.

Adler, with his title, suggests Wolf doesn’t understand economics, or at least has other reasons.

To be clear, Gov. Wolf absolutely understands economics, and knows that a market-based system will result in lower prices and greater selection.

And Gov. Wolf certainly understands that "modernization" proposals, which literally call for government increasing the price of wine and liquor, will result in higher prices.

No, Gov. Wolf is simply parroting the rhetoric of government union leaders who gave $3.4 million to his campaign and now are demanding political return.

Of course, Gov. Wolf can't say in a veto message that he's beholden to union leadership and trying to raise money for a new PAC, so he pretends he doesn't understand economics and has never bought alcohol in another state.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 00:39 PM | Comments

Pivotal Pension Reform Passes to Wolf

JULY 1, 2015

Yesterday, the General Assembly passed landmark legislation to free homeowners from skyrocketing property taxes, make school budgets go further, and protect public employees from politics.

SB 1 bill reforms the pension system by placing new state employees and school teachers in a defined-contribution retirement plan, similar to a 401(k). The bill passed the House of Representatives 106 to 89 and the Senate concurred with a 29 to 20 vote.

Please take a minute to thank your lawmakers for working to get politics out of pensions.

For years, public servants' retirement benefits have been at the mercy of political whims, with past legislatures making empty promises. Pension underfunding, along with market downswings, have left taxpayers with a $53 billion pension liability and skyrocketing local property taxes (an extra $600 per homeowner since 2008-09).

SB 1 not only stops the bleeding, but also benefits public employees by giving them stability, portability, and protection from political manipulation through a defined-contribution plan. The bill also provides employees with a cash-balance plan, adjusts the calculation of lump sum withdrawals to make them revenue neutral, and reduces "pension spiking" practices. SB 1 also puts lawmakers in the same defined-contribution plan as new employees, once they are re-elected.

The bill would save about $11 billion over the long-term.

Meanwhile, Governor Wolf continues to insist we do not have a pension crisis. A veto would be a huge blow to the commonwealth, paving the way for future credit downgrades, education cuts, and tax hikes.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 03:45 PM | Comments

Contract Transparency Still Critical

JUNE 29, 2015

PA State Union Contracts

Harrisburg is abuzz as the budget battle continues. With high profile legislation on liquor privatization, pension and education reform receiving much attention, it's easy to lose sight of a fundamental issue: contract transparency.

Contract transparency is critical to giving taxpayers influence over a process often captured by special interests.

Here is a short summary of the two transparency bills aimed at improving the collective bargaining process:

  • SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, empowers the Independent Fiscal Office to provide the public with cost estimates on state public sector union contracts prior to ratification.
  • SB 645, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano, requires public sector collective bargaining agreements to be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks prior to signing.

By making union contracts and their costs available to the public before they are implemented, taxpayers will have a chance to offer their input on the terms of the deals. If they feel the terms are unfair, they can demand changes to the contracts.

The current collective bargaining process provides no such recourse. As my colleague Nate pointed out last week, new union contracts were ratified more than a month ago, but we still aren’t privy to the contracts' terms. However, thanks to a story from Capitolwire, we do know the contracts will make government more expensive.

In writing about the budget process, Chris Comisac details why a few appropriations bills needed to be amended (paywall):

During the meeting, House Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, noted some of the bills have been amended with larger appropriation amounts. Markosek explained those increased figures – which have been agreed to by legislative leaders – represent the additional costs associated with the new collective bargaining agreements (emphasis mine) reached by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and the various state employee labor unions.

The new union contracts negotiated by the Wolf Administration—with some of his largest campaign contributors—will increase the cost of government by millions of dollars. This is the result of a process played out entirely in secret. No debate. No accountability. No transparency.

As Gov. Wolf likes to say, the status quo is unacceptable. Let’s upend it.

posted by BOB DICK | 02:16 PM | Comments

An Update on Union Contracts

JUNE 25, 2015

PA State Union Contracts

Earlier this week, the House State Government Committee moved SB 644 and SB 645—bills which would provide taxpayers greater information about contracts with government unions—to the House floor. Why do these bills matter? 

On April 21, Gov. Tom Wolf reached a one year contract agreement with AFSCME, the largest union of state workers.  

On May 19, the Secretary of Administration announced the ratification of AFSCME and UFCW (which represents liquor store workers) contracts by the unions’ members. The Administration told Charles Thompson of the Patriot News the two deals would cost around $23 million in additional costs next year.  

On June 9, the Administration announced a one year contract with SEIU (representing about 10,000 state workers). Estimates of the contract's annual cost weren't provided.  

To date, none of these contracts have been posted online, nor is a detailed summary or cost estimate available.

To be clear, it is now 65 days (more than 9 weeks) since the first report of a proposed agreement, 37 days (more than 5 weeks) since the announcement of AFSCME and UFCW contract ratification, and 16 days since the SEIU announcement. Yet, taxpayers and legislators still don’t have access to the details.

These examples show why contract transparency legislation is so very needed. Both examples demonstrate why critics are wrong to suggest two weeks is too long a time to have proposed contracts online. They claim transparency will "slow down the process." But as the last few months make clear, such objections are red herrings. 

Click here for more background on effort to shed a light on union contract negotiations. 

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 11:43 AM | Comments

Government Union Puts Politics Ahead of Teachers

JUNE 18, 2015

One government union is putting its political preferences and self-interest above the interests of public school teachers. Now, teachers are fighting back.

Jane Ladley, who recently retired from teaching after 25 years, Chris Meier, who teaches in the Penn Manor School District, and Linda Misja (pictured), a language teacher at Apollo-Ridge High School, are suing the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) to win back control of their own money.

We brought you Jane and Chris's story last year, but here's a quick synopsis: In Pennsylvania, if public employees demonstrate a bona fide religious objection to compulsory unionism, as Jane, Chris and Linda have, they are not required to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Instead, they can send their dues to an IRS approved charity.

But there's a problem. The PSEA is hijacking the religious objection process, and the Fairness Center (TFC), which is the group representing Jane and Chris in their lawsuit, explains why:

Now, the PSEA is telling Jane and Chris that it has a “policy” against allowing religious objectors to send their money to charities that they choose. According to the PSEA, Jane’s educational charity was too “political,” and Chris’s charity was a conflict of interest” because it represented teachers in separate, unrelated lawsuits against the PSEA.

Chris and Jane are currently waiting for a decision to be handed down by Common Pleas Court. Meanwhile, TFC filed a similar lawsuit against the PSEA today on behalf of Linda Misja, charging the union with the same transgression. Here's the background on Linda's case:

...Linda objected on religious grounds in 2012, the PSEA refused to let Linda send her money to a pro-life pregnancy center that, among other things, provides support to teenage mothers. Then the PSEA refused to allow her to send her money to the National Rifle Association Foundation, the 501(c)(3) charitable arm of the larger organization, which supports firearm safety education across the country.

In these three instances, the PSEA anointed itself the arbiter of what is political and made a calculated decision to put its self-interests ahead of public school teachers. Their intransigence has led to not only two lawsuits, but legislation to protect teachers' rights in the religious objection process.

House Bill 267, sponsored by Representative John Lawrence, would give religious objectors the freedom to choose a charity for their donation. After all, the money belongs to Jane, Chris, and Linda, not the PSEA.

posted by BOB DICK | 05:29 PM | Comments

Union Contract Agreements Bolster Case for Collective Bargaining Transparency

MAY 20, 2015

The Wolf Administration finalized contracts with two government unions yesterday, perfectly encapsulating the failings of the current collective bargaining process.

In a terse press release, the Wolf Administration announced contract agreements with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13 and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1776.

According to the Wolf Administration, the contracts generally maintain the status quo, which isn’t a promising revelation for public employees or taxpayers who have no interest in subsidizing union politics.

Additionally, a 2.25 percent pay increase was agreed to for employees with at least one year of continuous service. Charles Thompson of PennLive reports the pay increase will cost Pennsylvanians $23 million in the coming fiscal year.

Even if the public does not approve of these new contracts, there isn’t much they can do to prevent implementation. The agreements were hammered out behind closed doors, and the details were only released after both Gov. Wolf and two of his campaign contributors agreed to the deals.

Is there a better example of a process in need of transparency?

Had the Senate’s trio of transparency bills been codified, the process would have been different. Taxpayers could have watched the contract negotiations play out, and they would have been provided the contracts and their costs before ratification, giving them an opportunity to weigh in on the deals.

Fortunately, lawmakers still have time to make the collective bargaining process transparent. The wishes of government unions to keep the process secret should not prevent lawmakers from giving Pennsylvanians a seat at the table. 

posted by BOB DICK | 02:00 PM | Comments

Audio: Bills Shine Light On Union Contract Negotiations

MAY 13, 2015

Public sector union contracts are a huge cost for the state government, and they have also become a conflict of interest for Gov. Wolf. He will be negotiating contract deals with 16 unions­–which contributed millions of dollars to his gubernatorial campaign–behind closed doors, but some legislators want to open these doors to the public.

CF’s president & CEO Matt Brouillette recently spoke with Dom Giordano on Talk Radio 1210 WPHT in Philadelphia about several transparency bills that passed in the state Senate.

As Matt points out, SB 644, would put "a price tag on what the governor and the unions have negotiated” by empowering the Independent Fiscal Office to estimate the costs of public sector union contracts prior to ratification.  

The second bill, SB 645, requires public sector collective bargaining agreements to be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks prior to signing–giving the taxpayers a chance to see government union contracts before they have to pay the bill.

Listen below or click here for the interview. 

The Dom Giordano Show airs every weekday from 9 am – 12 pm. 

Read Matt's op-ed Wolf Negotiates Billions with Unions Who Gave Him Millions for more.

posted by JONATHAN REGINELLA | 08:28 AM | Comments

A Transparent Win for Taxpayers

MAY 6, 2015

Today the Senate took a significant step to make state government more transparent and accountable by approving SB 644 and SB 645. Here’s a brief description of the bills now heading to the House:

  • SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, empowers the Independent Fiscal Office to provide the public with cost estimates on state public sector union contracts prior to ratification.
  • SB 645, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano, requires public sector collective bargaining agreements to be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks prior to signing.

Please click here to send an email to thank the following Senators for voting yes: Alloway, Argall, Aument, Baker, Bartolotta, Brooks, Corman, Eichelberger, Folmer, Gordner, Greenleaf, Hutchinson, McGarrigle, McIlhinney, Mensch, Pileggi, Rafferty, Scarnati, Scavello, Smucker, Stefano, Tomlinson, Vance, Vogel, Vulakovich, Wagner, Ward, White, and Yaw.

The current collective bargaining process permits the governor to negotiate billions of dollars in contracts with public sector unions behind closed doors. In Governor Wolf’s case, he’s negotiating contracts with some of his largest campaign contributors—an immense conflict of interest.

Moreover, taxpayers are barred from reviewing and weighing in on these union contracts they’re required to pay for. Acknowledging this unfairness, the Senate voted to give taxpayers a seat at the table.

The quest for transparency now moves to the House. If the House approves, the governor’s spokesman has indicated Gov. Wolf may sign both pieces of legislation, a move consistent with his promise to augment government transparency.

posted by BOB DICK | 04:13 PM | Comments

Judge Halts Stealth Unionization Scheme

APRIL 23, 2015

A Commonwealth Court judge has issued a preliminary injunction to stop full enforcement of Gov. Tom Wolf's executive order to stealthily unionize home healthcare workers.

For folks like Dave Smith and his care provider Don Lambrecht, the injunction is wave of relief. The two men have lived together for years and they have no interest in a union dictating their working relationship.

The unionization drive by the United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania (UHWP) will continue. However, even if UHWP is selected to represent workers, the state cannot get involved in collecting dues from individual paychecks until the full court addresses the legality of Wolf’s executive order.

The union’s goal is to skim 2 percent of home care workers’ salaries from their pay, which would be up to 8.4 million each year if dues were collected from all 20,000 homecare workers under this order. Not a bad return after UHWP backers AFSCME and the SEIU contributed heavily to Gov. Wolf’s election campaign.

Dave and Don aren't the only ones concerned with the governor's overreach. On Monday, President Pro Tempore Scarnati and Speaker of the House Turzai filed an Amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs in the Fairness Center’s lawsuit. The leaders noted;

Executive Order 2015-05 is a blatant attempt by the Governor to circumvent the constitutionally-granted legislative authority of the General Assembly. The executive order should be declared invalid.

The Senate Republican Majority Caucus also issued a motion to intervene on the same day. And yesterday members of the Senate Health and Public Welfare Committee pressed acting-secretary Ted Dallas on the necessity of the order (paywall).

David Osborne, general counsel for the Fairness Center, notes, "No one—Republican or Democrat—should be comfortable with their governor issuing unconstitutional executive orders."

Click here for more background on Wolf’s executive order.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 04:05 PM | Comments

Total Records: 311

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.