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.
Taxpayer resources should not be used for any political purposes. Every citizen and every organization—including government unions—should have an equal opportunity to engage in policy debates through a level playing field for all, and favor for none. Ending the government unions’ special privilege of taxpayer-funded "automatic collection" of dues and political action committee (PAC) money is a matter of fairness.
Yesterday, we reported that the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers is trying to lower evaluation standards for teachers it had previously helped craft.
Under Pittsburgh's new system, which goes into effect next year, the district found about 15 percent of its teachers were rated "needs improvement" or "failing." About 85 percent are doing well in the classroom.
However, Pennsylvania law isn't allowing Pittsburgh to act on what they know about effective teachers. After Pittsburgh was forced to furlough teachers according to seniority, like school districts across the commonwealth, it discovered 16 teachers rated "distinguished"—the top rating—were let go. Twelve of those top teachers eventually returned; four did not.
At the same time, 17 teachers rated "failing" were also furloughed, but seniority rules meant 11 of them got to keep their jobs, nudging out the district's sorely needed "distinguished" teachers.
Seniority rules in the Public School Code mean teachers get placed and furloughed simply according to how long they've been in the system, not how well they teach students.
Pittsburgh's evaluation system, in short, is highlighting just how outdated Pennsylvania's tenure system is—and how it's hurting both students and good teachers. It's a lesson worth learning as state lawmakers attempt to reform seniority so we can keep the best teachers in our classrooms.
In the last year, the Pennsylvania State Education Association poured $3.8 million of its members' dues into "political activities and lobbying," according to its 2013 financial disclosure report. That's an increase of 46 percent in the last five years.
Bear in mind this spending comes from teachers' union dues, which school districts collect automatically from payroll—just like a tax. In effect, taxpayers are collecting money on behalf of a political organization, a privilege no other private group enjoys. In addition, ordinary teachers have no say in how their union leaders spend their dues.
Below is a partial breakdown of how the PSEA spent that $3.8 million on politics:
- $2.3 million to union employees for political and lobbying activities.
- $100,000 to national Progressive group America Votes.
- $110,009 to an employment service, which included expenses labeled as “member political consulting.”
- $70,875 to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, largely for the CLEAR Coalition, which comprises several government labor unions working to affect Pennsylvania state budget spending.
- $64,825 for meetings and hotel lodging.
- $64,685 for post-election and Pennsylvania budget surveys.
- $40,561 to run phone banks and kiosk lines.
- $22,524 on pledge forms, donation envelopes and promotional items for PACE, the union's political action committee.
- $22,000 to pollster Terry Madonna for research.
- $5,000 to the Education Policy and Leadership Center for “school funding campaign.”
In addition, the National Education Association gave a whopping $650,000 this year to Pennsylvanians for Accountability, a mysterious advocacy group that cropped up running prime-time television ads accusing Gov. Tom Corbett of spending billions in corporate tax breaks. Pennsylvania teachers and educators across the country were forced to fund the ads through their union dues.
When both taxpayers and teachers are forced to foot the bill for such politics, it's high time we end the power cycle of automatic dues deductions.
Remember the shadowy group, Pennsylvanians for Accountability, which ran "shell game" prime time attack ads on Gov. Tom Corbett for "bankrolling big tax cuts for his corporate backers"? The group also ran mailers targeting several House Republicans.
There was little to identify the origins of the group, which materialized out of nowhere in the spring and had a barely-occupied office in Pittsburgh. But it soon surfaced that labor unions were behind the group's efforts against the governor and other Republican legislators.
Now it turns out the National Education Association gave a whopping $650,000 to Pennsylvanians for Accountability this year, according to its just-filed annual financial report to the U.S. Department of Labor. This report, called the LM-2, details how several government unions spend their own members' dues. A portion of all dues that teachers pay to the Pennsylvania State Education Association goes to the National Education Association.
Previously it was revealed that the SEIU—which represents most government social workers—gave $180,000 to Pennsylvanians for Accountability.
Anyone who believes teachers' and state workers' union dues can't be used for political purposes, take note.
"They are going to take away your pension!" is a common scare tactic used by Pennsylvania government union leaders to oppose pension reform (even though private school unions have agreed to pension reform).
Such a scenario is no longer fiction for workers in Detroit. Yesterday a federal bankruptcy court ruled the City of Detroit has the ability to renegotiate pension benefits, like any other contract with the city’s 100,000 plus creditors. The dramatic development has widespread implications across the country—including Pennsylvania, where unfunded local and state pension liabilities surpass $50 billion.
Ironically, union officials' refusal to consider reform has endangered the very pensions they claimed they were protecting.
We've noted before the desperate municipal situations in Scranton, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Harrisburg. Government union leaders' unwillingness to compromise and ignore fiscal reality have put these cities on Detroit’s destructive path—harming taxpayers, residents and government employees.
Only by depoliticizing government pensions with 401(k)-type plans will state and local workers be able to keep their pension and create a system that’s fair to new workers and taxpayers.
One teacher called it "a kick in the teeth." Another used the word "extortion." What are these teachers talking about? The practice in Pennsylvania of teachers' union dues being used for politics, without their permission, and of being forced to pay the union just to keep their jobs—all of which is reinforced by the practice of automatic dues deduction.
Teachers across Pennsylvania are fed up with this unfair system. Educator Julie Raab calls the current relationship between teachers and their unions "parasitic."
Robin Fought talks about her shock at discovering the collection arrangement unions have with government: "To my surprise, our school district resources as well as my tax money are being used to deduct not only union dues, but political action committee funds for PSEA-PACE that go to candidates that I do not support."
John Cress notes: "I don't think anybody should have to contribute to any type of political interest group as a condition of their employment."
Joe Connolly asks: "Why is the baseline assumption that all public school employees should join the union or be forced to do so through tactics such as “fair share” agreements? What if the baseline assumption was that public school employees were capable of making an informed choice on their own?"
Other Pennsylvania public teachers are speaking out against forced unionism. Read more of their views at Free to Teach.
For a small annual fee of $669, you can join Matt's political organization called the MEA—Matt’s Education Association.
You'll join? Great! Don’t worry about writing a check. Government will withhold MEA's annual fee from your paycheck and then send it to Matt free of charge. In exchange, Matt will represent your interests. Although, almost half of your money will cover overhead and his six-figure salary. Where will the rest go? He'll funnel much of the rest to political causes antithetical to your beliefs.
Of course, if you don't like Matt's politics, you can always opt out. But you will still have to pay $450 from your paycheck. After all, you’ve got to pay your “fair share" to his organization. So now you no longer want to be a member of the MEA? Fine, that’s your free choice, but you'll have to find a job someplace else.
This doesn't sound like a good deal, does it? But for many, it's the reality in Pennsylvania. To learn more, listen to Matt explain how this entire process works in a podcast from Lincoln Radio Journal with the Executive Director of PMA, Dave Taylor.
Ellwood City public school teacher John Cress is speaking up against the forced political speech he had to pay for via his union dues to the Pennsylvania State Education Association: "I don't think anybody should have to contribute to any type of political interest group as a condition of their employment."
Retired teacher Bill Frye agrees, calling the system of school districts and other government entities collecting union dues and political action committee money for a private organization "grossly unfair."
Watch clips from their recent appearance on Pittsburgh's news issues program, NightTalk.
*Video courtesy of PCNC/NightTalk
*Video courtesy of PCNC/NightTalk
Visit FreetoTeach.org to read more stories from teachers who are fed up with Pennsylvania’s unfair system.
Last week we highlighted a number of election-related ads the Pennsylvania State Education Association paid for using its members' dues money—without their permission or knowledge. The state's largest teachers union also funnels money to a number of political issue campaigns, again spending educator dues to advocate for issue positions their own members may disagree with, but pay for anyway.
Here are a few examples from the PSEA's magazine, Voice:
Funding 'cuts': The PSEA blames Gov. Tom Corbett for $1 billion in education cuts, and encourages educators to do the same. One 2012 four-page solicitation to donate to the union's political action committee, PACE, shows a cartoon depicting the governor throwing fuel on a funding crisis fire. Another campaign highlighting funding cuts encourages educators to go "all in" for public education by donating to PACE and electing the right candidates.
The "cuts," however, are really the loss of federal stimulus dollars which flowed into the state over two years starting in 2009. Then-Gov. Ed Rendell reduced the state portion of K-12 funding with that influx. Once the one-time money went away, Gov. Tom Corbett increased state funding for 2013-14 and raised it about $10 billion, the highest level ever. Funding per student in the last 15 years has also increased 33 percent after adjusting for inflation.
Pension crisis denial: While conjuring a crisis in education funding, the PSEA has ignored the fact that the state is facing a massive $29 billion shortfall in its school employee pension system, the result of unsustainable increases in pension benefits from over a decade ago. Unless comprehensive reform is enacted, the burden will result in higher property taxes and pension costs crowding out other government spending, including education. But the PSEA only tells educators that their pension is a promise, and "don't let Governor Corbett break it" (while asking for more PACE donations).
Ridiculing Gov. Corbett: A mock history chapter from the May 2013 magazine has lines such as "funding cuts crush schools" and "can PSEA members help to elect a new governor in 2014?" Another insert calls Corbett's education budget a "shameful freefall." And in July, a four-page cartoon and PACE solicitation depicted Corbett as a lounge singer with a lousy hits like "C'Mon, Baby, Cut My Pension." The ad prompted Pennsylvania teacher Steve Calabro to ask,
If a teacher found a mean-spirited caricature of a public official drawn by a student, would they A) applaud and help the student put the official down, B) force the rest of the class to pay money to help make more offensive drawings, or C) try to educate the student as to why being disrespectful is not the best course of action in life? One of these sounds like a teacher, the other two are PSEA.
Well said, Steve. Other teachers are asking why their union dues have to fund such political activities, which are surprisingly subsidized by taxpayers—a practice that must end.
"If you DON'T care about funds for your school...then by all means throw this away," reads a June 2011 insert in PSEA Voice, the magazine of the 185,000-strong Pennsylvania State Education Association. It's a solicitation to donate to the union's political action committee, PACE, because failure to do so—the union browbeats educators—means "less job security" for teachers and "more attacks on your profession."
But that's not all.
That PACE insert, and several other political solicitations, were paid for by the union dues of PSEA members—without their knowledge or permission. Last year, the union plowed $3.2 million of its members' dues into such "political activities and lobbying," including scare-mongering spreads against Mitt Romney, sneering takedowns of Gov. Tom Corbett, and ads in support of the Obama-Biden ticket.
What's worse, taxpayers are helping to fund these activities because school districts collect the PSEA's union dues through public payroll systems. Even PAC money—which can be given directly to candidates—is collected using taxpayer resources.
Here are more examples of PSEA and National Education Association (NEA) ads that union dues from Pennsylvania educators paid for:
- A September 2012 PSEA insert proclaming that "a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for Tom Corbett."
- An article describing a Romney presidency as "Corbett, Christie, Walker on Steroids," with a four-page spread of PSEA-recommended candidates in the November 2012 elections.
- A spread called "We the People" encouraging teachers to vote...and give to PACE.
- An NEA election guide comparing Obama with Romney but clearly touting "Educators for Obama."
Such partisan solicitations are why teachers across Pennsylvania are speaking out against their forced funding of the PSEA and NEA's political activity, and why we should end the taxpayer-funded collection of political money for government unions.
This perspective on union spending by Pennsylvania public school teacher John Cress originally appeared at Free to Teach, a project of the Commonwealth Foundation.
I have been a middle school math and special education teacher for six years. After nearly all that time in the union, I decided last year that I’d had enough of financially supporting an organization that funded abortion groups.
The PSEA may claim that dues do not support such “politics.” True, dues money cannot be used for the direct election of candidates. But that counts only political action committee, or PAC, money that goes to PACE.
In fact, dues can be used for a variety of political and ideological causes apart from political action committees. According to the NEA’s (of which PSEA is part of) disclosure report to the U.S. Department of Labor, $1.15 million in donations went to the AFL/CIO and another $15,333 went to the SEIU, which both donate to Planned Parenthood.
In 2012, the PSEA alone reported spending $3.2 million of member dues on “political activities and lobbying.”
If my dues to the union at the local, state and national level do not fund political activities, then why is the NEA reporting that these activities are funded? If one follows the money, part of my pay funds abortions. As an adoptive parent, I should not be required to give one fraction of one cent towards abortion and will not be forced into doing so.
Also, there is a difference of approximately 35 percent in being a fair share payer, instead of a full-fledged union member. Obviously, this 35 percent has to go somewhere.
Often, I receive e-mails, flyers, and communications from the PSEA telling me who to vote for. The 35 percent difference in dues vs. fair share largely pays for these communications, such as this anti-Corbett ad which solicited members to donate directly to PACE.
Dues indeed pay for marketing the union’s political agendas. One example is the $30,000 that the NEA disclosed was given to the Daily Kos, a very liberal-slanted blog. If I want to donate to a political cause, I can as a free citizen do so and as a teacher have the ability to research these issues independently.
My employment conditions should not include funding groups such as the Daily Kos and Planned Parenthood. I should not have to prostitute my beliefs and values to teach and refuse to do so. This is why I resigned from my union and became a fair share payer.
Public School Math and Special Education Teacher
posted by JOHN CRESS | 03:00 PM | Comments
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