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).



School Funding Doublespeak

SEPTEMBER 30, 2014

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...)

Unfortunately mass confusion about education spending in Pennsylvania abounds, thanks to a well-funded campaign of deception from government union executives. 

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.  

posted by JAMES PAUL | 04:18 PM | Comments

Teachers Sue PSEA in Landmark Case

SEPTEMBER 19, 2014

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.

For more on the teachers' groundbreaking lawsuit, see stories at PennLive, LancasterOnline, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the below TV report from Fox43.

posted by PRIYA ABRAHAM | 05:24 PM | Comments

Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

SEPTEMBER 15, 2014

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.

posted by BOB DICK | 04:34 PM | Comments

Union Lobbying Holds Back Lottery Performance

AUGUST 26, 2014

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.  

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:00 PM | Comments

Audio: 81% in PA Support Employee Freedom

AUGUST 19, 2014

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.

Listen to and share a portion of the show:

The David Madeira Show airs daily and can be streamed live at www.thedavidmadeirashow.com

Log in with your Facebook account and follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.

And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps.

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 03:49 PM | Comments

Podcast: Teachers Opt Out of Union Membership

AUGUST 19, 2014

As part of National Employee Freedom Week, we sat down with two western Pennsylvania teachers who successfully left their teachers’ unions last year. John Cress is a middle school math and special education teacher and Rob Brough is a 20-year history and reading teacher. Both were motivated to opt out after seeing the political nature of their unions’ activities.

Why is an annual educational campaign designed to inform teachers of their right to opt out of full union membership even necessary? Teachers’ unions don’t make such information widely available. Indeed, both Rob and John thought they had to join the union as full members in order to get their first teaching jobs.

Rob Brough for BlogBrough says, “The bottom line is: No. I can say with absolute certainty that none of those options were given to me . . . If a person doesn’t know that their rights even exist, how can they exercise those rights freely?”

Cress agrees, saying, “There should be full disclosure on where the dues are going and the educator should be permitted to make the decision by him or herself as to whether or not to continue to contribute to those causes.”John Cress for Blog

After years of union membership, Brough determined that the teachers’ unions weren’t designed to help improve his effectiveness in the classroom: “I was learning nothing about becoming a better public servant. I was, however, learning about politics. I was learning about organizations that were designed to increase the union’s effectiveness.”

Cress disagreed with his unions’ political stances but was powerless to change them: “It was very frustrating every time one of those [political] emails came because I was thinking, ‘Why do I have to be part of this organization? Why do I have to support these causes just to be a teacher? I should have free will. I should be able to have an open mind, but I was under the impression that I couldn’t.”

Listen to the full conversation:

Know a teacher who might benefit from knowing their rights? Send them to www.FreeToTeach.org for more information.

Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.

And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps.

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 09:00 AM | Comments

Teachers Call for More Freedom, Choices

AUGUST 11, 2014

Heather Lister and Joe Connolly are both Pennsylvania educators, and they couldn’t be more different.  Heather is a 25-year-old library media specialist and a registered Democrat. Joe is a veteran high school guidance counselor and a proud conservative.

On the surface, the teachers are poles apart, but there is something they agree on: Lister and Connolly both believe that labor union membership should be voluntary.

You might wonder why that’s such a big deal—don’t teachers already have a choice? The short answer is no.

In the 26 states that are not “right to work,” most public school teachers who decide not to join a union must still pay union fees—whether they want union representation or not. That's why Commonwealth Foundation is participating in National Employee Freedom Week (August 10-16), a broad grassroots effort to inform teachers and other unionized workers of their labor rights.

We're highlighting the stories of teachers like Heather, Joe and many others, and providing an easy step-by-step guide for teachers on how to resign from their union.  Stay tuned for more this week!

posted by PRIYA ABRAHAM | 03:00 PM | Comments

Union Dues Fund SuperPAC Spending Binge

JULY 23, 2014

A new $2 million political TV ad campaign represents the first foray of "SuperPAC" spending into Pennsylvania. And taxpayers are forced to pay for this political spending.

As we've noted before, SuperPACs—officially designated as "independent expenditure committees"—were authorized to operate in Pennsylvania by a court order. The organizations can accept an unlimited amount of union dues to spend on independent campaign ads for or against a candidate (but they cannot give directly to a candidate).

PA Families First, the SuperPAC behind the new ad—highlighted by Tom Fitzgerald—is indeed backed by union dues. State campaign finance records show that PA Families First received $500,000 from the national arm of SEIU and $550,000 from the national arm of AFSCME. Both are unions representing government workers.

The Democratic Governors Association is responsible for setting up PA Families First, and contributed another $695,000 from its coffers to PA Families First last reporting cycle.

The DGA made news itself this week for a major fundraising haul, again with much of the funding coming from union dues. Indeed, their last report shows more than $4 million received from the NEA, AFT, AFSCME, UFCW, and SEIU—all unions which represent government workers and public school teachers.

And as EAG News adds, which is worth repeating—this funding comes from union dues:

Someone will ask, so let’s be clear that this is dues money being used, since it is not a direct contribution to a candidate for office. Traditionally these funds are spent on media buys to promote a particular stance on an issue, which tend to appear in battleground states and coincide with the position of a recommended candidate.

The NEA contribution came from the NEA Advocacy Fund, which is a Super PAC. As we all know, “Super PACs’ corrosive influence undermines our system of democracy and threatens to make elections a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder,” unless, of course, it belongs to you. Then it’s pretty cool.

The troubling aspect of all this is that taxpayers are forced to subsidize this political spending.  Government union leaders of the NEA, AFSCME and others get to use public resources to collect their political money. Union dues, SuperPAC money, and even direct campaign contributions are taken out of teachers’ and government workers’ paychecks using taxpayers-funded resources.

This should not be. Public resources should not be used for partisan politics. It is time to pass paycheck protection.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 00:50 PM | Comments

Sherlock Investigates: Politics on the Public Dime

JULY 18, 2014

On Tuesday, former House Speakers Bill DeWeese and John Perzel were issued public demerits in the form of gold plaques hung beneath their Capitol portraits. That same day, a court filing specified charges in current state Senator Leanna Washington’s corruption trial. What do these seemingly unrelated events have in common?

In any investigation, one must first gather the facts:

  • Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan DiGiacomo said Sen. Washington’s crime was "using state paid employees to plan and organize her campaign fund-raiser during state workdays” and charged Washington with “theft of services” and “conflict of interest.”
  • John Perzel, released from prison in March after serving two years behind bars, “orchestrated an illegal scheme to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on developing massive voter databases and customized software that were designed to give Republican legislative candidates an electoral advantage.”
  • As for DeWeese, Karen Langley at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, “Prosecutors said he used public resources for political gain by compelling legislative workers to do campaign work.”

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to sense the pattern: Each came under legal scrutiny for using taxpayer dollars for campaign politics—a clear-cut crime… at least for legislators.

Also this week, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) released the latest edition of their magazine The Voice. In it, PSEA endorses Tom Wolf for governor and urges members to donate to PACE, their political action committee (PAC). That money is then donated to Wolf’s campaign. Indeed, he received more than $1.6 million in government union contributions in the month following the primary election.

Unrelated? Hardly. Let’s do some deduction.

The union dues money used to produce and distribute The Voice and the political campaign money it solicits is all collected using taxpayer resources. Worse, buried on page 24 is a notice telling members that 12 percent of their dues—which equals more than $7 million—will be spent on politics in just one year.

But a quick trip to my mind palace (AKA, Google) reveals that a few weeks ago, PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever told Scott Kraus at The Morning Call, “Dues aren’t used for political activity, other than to provide members with a list of supported candidates.”

Really? Something doesn’t add up.

How can government unions brazenly do what brings legislators public shaming and jail time?

Why can government union leaders get away with denying that dues are used for politics yet tell their members that $7 million will be spent on the same?

Are they Moriarty-like masterminds or are they simply not being held to the same standards everyone else—legislators and taxpayers alike—must live by?

The answer is… elementary. You’ll find it in our paycheck protection toolkit and you won’t need a magnifying glass.

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 10:06 AM | Comments

Teachers Unions Putting More Dues Money into Politics

JULY 15, 2014

While union leadership continues to repeat the myth that union dues cannot be used for politics, the latest newsletter from the Pennsylvania State Education Assocation again reveals, in small print, that 12 percent of members’ dues will be spent on politics next year.

That should not surprise anyone, given the rest of the magazine is chock full of political ads, endorsements, and calls to action.

PSEA 2014 IRS Notice

This is on the heels of increasing political activism out of the national teachers' unions. In case you missed it, last week the American Federation of Teachers decided to increase their union dues to bolster their political spending.  

To bolster the union’s coffers for the legal and political battles to come, the AFT leadership is asking members to support a two-stage dues hike that would add $5.40 a year to their bills this year and another $6.60 in 2015.

Most of the increase would go toward the “militancy/defense fund” and state and national “solidarity funds,” which support litigation, political activism and lobbying.

The $12 increase (over two years), would mean the AFT will collect almost $19 million more each year that can be used on politics. Last year, the AFT spent more than $28 million on political activity and lobbying, while more than half its spending went to the category "other," including gifts to other advocacy organizations.

Their sister organization, the NEA, spent $44.8 million on politics last year, not including their list of gifts to other political organizations. And as the Wall Street Journal reports, the recent NEA conference was full of political debate, while eschewing union transparency.

Delegates debated whether the union's president should write a letter to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder denouncing the NFL team name's "institutional racism." They also discussed a resolution supporting reparations for "the lingering impact of slavery" and "subtle Jim Crow policies and thinking" including "unconscious bias." These items were referred to a private committee for further discussion.

Some business items approved by the delegates did pertain to teaching. Delegates signed off on drawing up a list of books, for students from pre-K to graduate school, "that have LGBTQ and gender non-conforming themes" ($6,500) and a lobbying campaign for legislation that requires "sensitive and respectful discussions of gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation" ($24,140). They also adopted a resolution to promote "clean energy" in curriculums ($10,760).

The attendees voted down some in-house items: a proposal that would require the NEA's board to provide written justification for executive officers' raises, and another that urged the NEA to "bargain in good faith" with its internal union, the Association of Field Service Employees (AFSE), thus exemplifying "the behavior we advocate for in negotiations."

As for Pennsylvania, many teachers disagree with both the PSEA and NEA's spending on politics—and the lousy job the union does telling educators about it. As teacher Steve Calabro noted last month, one obscure notice does not make for notified teachers on such a critical issue.

"How much money is the government owed from teachers who don't take this into account when filing taxes?" Calabro askked. "This information should be a separate mailer that goes out the first week of January, not smothered in the back of a summer issue of a magazine that no one reads."

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 09:30 AM | Comments

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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.  The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.