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).

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

Pro-Taxpayer, Pro-Transparency Bills Move Forward

APRIL 22, 2015

Government union contract negotiations—long shrouded in secrecy behind closed-door meetings—are one step closer to openness and transparency. Today, a series of bills passed the Senate State Government Committee that will inform taxpayers about the contracts they are ultimately responsible for financing.

  • SB 643, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument, requires public notice and open meetings when public sector collective bargaining agreements are negotiated.
  • SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, empowers the Independent Fiscal Office to estimate the costs of 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.

In addition to enhanced transparency, these bills would protect taxpayers against the conflict of interest that exists when politicians accept government union campaign donations before engaging in secret negotiations with those same donors. Gov. Wolf, for example, accepted $2.6 million from six unions whose contracts he is negotiating or will soon be negotiating—including more than half a million dollars from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest state employee union in Pennsylvania.

Coincidentally, at the same time lawmakers in the Senate are promoting open-government legislation, Gov. Wolf appears close to a one-year agreement with AFSCME. The AFSCME contract is typically the basis for other state contracts. If the AFSCME deal is applied to all union contracts expiring this year, it represents approximately $76 million in additional taxpayer costs.

Should the transparency bills be signed into law, Pennsylvania would join 11 other states that have pursued similar good-government legislation. It's time to follow the trend and shine a light on this significant expense.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 02:45 PM | Comments

PA is One Step Closer to Outlawing Harassment

APRIL 22, 2015

Stop Union Violence

Sarina Rose, VP of Development for Post Brothers Apartments, knows firsthand what its like to be harassed. She was verbally berated and threatened in a Philadelphia restaurant. But because the abuse occurred during a labor dispute the harassment was deemed legal and the judge dismissed the case.

That would change under legislation passed in the House yesterday. HB 874 would close a deplorable loophole in Pennsylvania's Crimes Code. The loophole allows an individual to harass, stalk, and threaten the use of a weapon of mass destruction IF these aggressive acts are carried out during a labor dispute.

Neither management nor union employees should be harassed, stalked, or threatened with impunity. While both groups have a constitutional right to express their opinions about business practices, they should not have a license to be violent.

HB 874 now heads to the Senate.

Click here to see how your representative voted.

posted by BOB DICK | 01:30 PM | Comments

This Unionization Scheme is About Money

APRIL 20, 2015

I am angry.

As my colleague Dawn pointed out last week, ballots were mailed to home health care workers asking them whether or not they want to be represented by the United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania—a self-described “union” and joint project of two other government unions, AFSCME and SEIU.

Most of these homecare workers are taking care of a family member or friend, and have no need or desire for a union to get in between them and those they care for. Yet, if just a majority of those voting check 'yes,' United Home Care Workers will have a union monopoly over all homecare workers.

This stealth unionization scheme was made possible by an executive order from Gov. Tom Wolf. The Wolf administration denies this is a unionization effort. According to Gov. Wolf’s press secretary, these ballots to elect a union are “not a union ballot.”

This despite a mailer sent to homecare workers highlighting “a special message about our union election” and urges home care attendants to get involved “by forming our union.” (Emphasis added)

UHWP mailer image 3

UHWP mailer image 4

Here’s what this unionization scheme is about: money. SEIU and AFSCME want to skim union dues off the top of Medicaid payments to homecare providers. Already, the union has sent out forms to authorize paycheck deductions which will total an estimated $8.4 million in additional revenue for SEIU and AFSCME coffers.

UHWP mailer image 2

Gov. Wolf would also benefit. AFSCME and SEIU contributed more than $1.5 million to Gov. Wolf’s campaign in 2014, while spending hundreds of thousands more in independent expenditures and “SuperPAC” contributions—directly from union dues—to support his election.

Our latest policy memo provides a background on Wolf’s executive order and the lawsuits filed to stop this stealth unionization scheme and dues skim.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 04:42 PM | Comments

"This is Not a Union Ballot"

APRIL 15, 2015

This is not a union ballot, according Jeffrey Sheridan, press secretary for Gov. Wolf.

UHCW ballot

UHCW Ballot 2

The ballot you see was mailed to a home health care worker. Gov. Wolf issued an executive order that effectively unionizes home health care workers, potentially adding millions to government union coffers. Last election cycle, government unions gave $3.4 million to Gov. Wolf's campaign.

United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania is a joint project of two government unions, AFSCME and SEIU. On its website it self-describes as "a union". In a mailer sent to home care workers, they offer "a special message about your union election."  (emphasis added)

"It’s not a union ballot," Jeffrey Sheridan told the Post-Gazette. "It's just not. They’re wrong."

Mr. Sheridan doesn't have to call it a "ballot." He can call it a unicorn if he wants, but the fact remains that deceptive tactics are being used against those who serve some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.

posted by DAWN TOGUCHI | 04:18 PM | Comments

Wolf's Stealth Unionization is Happening Now

APRIL 14, 2015

Two lawsuits filed in Commonwealth Court last week say Gov. Wolf’s February executive order is an illegal attempt to unionize thousands of Pennsylvania homecare workers. But both the governor and his spokesman have consistently denied it does any such thing. Now, secret ballots sent to homecare workers for a union ambush election show those claims to be deceptive.

The Fairness Center, which sued to halt the executive order along with the Pennsylvania Homecare Association last Monday, obtained this union secret ballot delivered to Pennsylvania homecare attendants. It must be returned by April 23.

The ballot is for a final union election which would unionize tens of thousands of homecare workers under the United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania—a "joint effort" of the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State County, and Municipal Employees.

Yet last week, Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan told WITF that the order "doesn’t allow [homecare workers] to organize." When asked about the lawsuits during a Wednesday East Liberty visit, Wolf himself said, "I'm not forcing anyone to join a union, nor am I granting collective bargaining rights or making anyone a state employee," according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The fact that SEIU and AFSCME are organizing for their union right now directly contradicts these statements. People like Don Lambrecht—who has cared for his friend and employer David Smith day and night for the past 25 years—are being cajoled to vote for the union.

Indeed, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board called Wolf’s order "an example of politics at its worst," and pointed to the SEIU's substantial donations to Wolf’s gubernatorial campaign as his likely motivation.

The Wolf administration's cozy relationship with the SEIU is being revealed elsewhere today. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that Wolf’s chief of staff advised the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to "let the SEIU unilaterally organize” their workers. A UPMC spokesman called Wolf’s approach “straight of out SEIU’s playbook."

A pattern of union favors is developing in the Wolf administration that should give Pennsylvanians pause.

Wolf accepted nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from the SEIU and employs a former executive director of the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council as a special assistant. AFSCME, between its national and state arm, gave Wolf another $550,000 in campaign support. Those contributions seem to be paying a dividend for union leaders.

Even before SEIU and AFSCME's ballots were sent, it was clear that the order’s purpose was to unionize workers.

The union could actually win the election with just a majority of those who return ballots. Even if just 20 percent of homecare workers cast a ballot, SEIU and AFSCME would become the monopoly representative for 100 percent of homecare workers and could begin collecting union dues and campaign contributions right out of Medicaid payments.

It’s disgraceful that these deceptive tactics are being used against those who serve some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians. It’s a shame that it’s being done by a man who claims to be a "different kind of governor."

posted by JOHN BOUDER, NATHAN BENEFIELD | 11:48 AM | Comments

Trapped: One Teacher Tells His Story

APRIL 9, 2015

Frank is a high school teacher in Lackawanna County who has been frustrated with the NEA’s support of abortion for a long time: “I just don’t want to see any of my money going to support abortion in any way.” Unfortunately, Frank’s desire has been ignored.

According to the NEA’s financial report disclosed 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, both of which donate to Planned Parenthood.

As a member of the NEA, Frank’s dues are spent on many political causes that violate his moral beliefs. “The union does not represent or even respect my deeply held convictions. It forces me to violate them,” he explains.

So when Frank learned he could resign his union membership and donate his fair share fee to a charity, he knew he was morally obligated to do so. “I have been in the union for 28 years. I never knew that I had a religious objection option. Had I known that earlier, I would have taken action.”

But there was a problem. Frank’s current contract prohibits him from resigning from the union until June 2017, after he’s eligible for retirement. “I haven’t made any decisions yet [about retirement], but it doesn’t appear that there is any way for me to stop funding the pro-abortion movement short of leaving my job.”

Frank’s experience isn’t uncommon. Contracts give educators little opportunity to opt-out or resign their union membership. Pennsylvania’s regulations are especially restrictive.

If a school district collective bargaining agreement contains a maintenance of membership provision, teachers have a very brief window to resign their membership. This is frequently an annual 10-day or two-week period, or a 15-day period right before a contract expires.

In rare cases, a teacher could be denied the right to leave their union for decades. If a union and employer agree to a new contract before the opt-out window, the window is vacated and employees operating under the contract cannot leave their union.

Additionally, no teacher has successfully challenged a valid maintenance of membership provision in Pennsylvania, despite the constitutional concerns presented by such a provision.

Frank hopes his story will help other educators become aware of their opt-out options and that lawmakers will take notice to of these oppressive regulations that limit the freedom to teach.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 01:06 PM | Comments

"Ludicrous" Union Dues Skim Faces Lawsuits

APRIL 8, 2015

Pennsylvania's Government Unions

On Monday, two separate lawsuits were filed in response to Gov. Wolf's February executive order which opens the door to unionizing tens of thousands of home health care workers. This would give SEIU—the largest of Wolf’s many public sector union political donors—access to a potential $21 million in union dues every year.

But Gov. Wolf's team denies the executive order does anything but let home health care workers talk to the governor’s office. Why that would require an executive order is anyone's guess.

"It doesn't allow them to organize," Wolf press secretary Jeff Sheridan told WITF. Sheridan told the Tribune Review the suits are "ludicrous" and that "the executive order is about helping the disabled and elderly, not union organizing."

Who’s got it right? Let's review Wolf’s executive order (emphasis mine):

An employee organization that has as one of its primary purposes the representation of direct care workers in their relations with the Commonwealth or other public entities may petition the Secretary to represent a particular unit of Direct Care Workers.

The truth is "employee organization" is simply a legal term for a union. The order specifically allows unions to seek to represent (i.e., organize) direct care workers.  It even offers to provide a list of workers’ home addresses to help the union organize.

Wolf's order also defines a new "Direct Care Worker Representative" (emphasis mine):

All Direct Care Workers identified on the most recent Direct Care Worker List (at the time the election is requested) shall be eligible to vote in an election.  If the majority of votes cast in the election are for the petitioning organization, the American Arbitration Association shall certify the election results, and the Secretary shall recognize the organization as the Direct Care Worker Representative.  There shall only be one Direct Care Worker Representative recognized at any time.

Put more simply, the order creates a monopoly union representative for all home health care workers.

And Gov. Wolf makes the unionization process as easy as possible—an election could be held with only 10 percent of home care workers signing up, far lower than the 30 percent threshold in the current labor law. Moreover, the election would be conducted by the American Arbitration Association, not the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, which is the standard in all other cases.  And the union would actually win the election with just a majority of those voting, as opposed to the true majority required under the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act.

The order goes on to describe a "meet and confer process" over several issues that can result in a "memorandum of mutual understanding." This has the same effect as collective bargaining by any reasonable understanding—they’re just changing the terminology.  

What will they be negotiating over? Wages, health benefits, retirement, paid leave, working conditions, and—of course—payroll deduction of union dues.

Indeed, Acting Secretary of Human Services admits, under questioning from Sen. Scott Wagner, that this order would allow home care workers to join a union and pay union dues.

Without doubt, this order is stealth unionization of home care workers. To deny it by using doublespeak is—in Jeff Sheridan's own words—simply ludicrous.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 05:30 PM | Comments

Gov. Wolf's Executive Order Hurts Home Health Care Recipients

APRIL 8, 2015

Our friends at the Fairness Center (TFC) filed a lawsuit this week defending against stealth unionization of homecare workers across Pennsylvania. In their lawsuit, TFC argues Gov. Wolf’s executive order to unionize homecare workers violates both Pennsylvania’s Constitution and the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act.

Gov. Rendell employed this same tactic in the waning days of his administration, but he abandoned the union friendly move after a court challenge.

The Pennsylvania Homecare Association (PHA) also filed a separate lawsuit in conjunction with United Cerebral Palsy of Pennsylvania to prevent Gov. Wolf’s power grab from moving forward. As the PHA points out in their filing statement, the order allows the SEIU to go door-to-door recruiting homecare workers to join the union.

While the legal ramifications of this move are troubling, the impact it could have on the unique relationship between many homecare workers and recipients is even more distressing, threatening relationships like the one Dave Smith and Don Lambrecht share.

Dave, whose muscular dystrophy has left him wheelchair-bound, and Don, Dave’s homecare provider of 25 years, have become close friends, seeing each other as family rather than as an employer and employee.

But Wolf’s order allows the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to step between the two men. Even though Don would not be required to pay dues, he would still be forced to accept representation, essentially forcing him to collectively bargain against Dave. The same situation applies to tens of thousands of other homecare workers, many of whom care for their own elderly parents or disabled children.

Dave sees Wolf’s effort as an unwelcome and unnecessary invasion, saying, “Don doesn’t need to pay part of his income to a group for something that he’s been able to do for himself all these years.”

Dave’s ability to have control over his own care may be in jeopardy, too.

Don, a former union member himself, says unions aren’t “practical” in this situation and that there’s just one reason for the unionization push, “Money—union dues.”

For a governor touting transparency and a “government that works,” this under-the-radar gift to one of his largest campaign donors is particularly disturbing. This, along with Wolf’s secret contract negotiations with SEIU and 15 other public unions, is another indication that his “gift ban” is all bark and no bite.

posted by BOB DICK | 04:38 PM | Comments

Contract Transparency: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

APRIL 7, 2015

State union contracts worth billions of taxpayer dollars would be available for public inspection before being signed by the governor, if proposals unveiled by two state Senators become law.

The Patriot News reports Sen. Mike Folmer is introducing legislation that would require the Independent Fiscal Office to assess the cost of proposed state union contracts. Sen. Pat Stefano has a separate bill that would require all levels of government to post contracts online before acting on them (see our post on a similar House bill).

ABC 27 explains how Gov. Wolf will be negotiating sate employee contracts worth about $3.3 billion with union leadership that contributed $2.6 million to his election campaign.

Without reform, these contracts would go on behind close doors despite the clear conflict of interest. As Bob pointed out last week, 11 states have enacted contract transparency.

What does Gov. Wolf say about such proposals? Well, not much, though his spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, offers some insults to anyone supporting these commonsense transparency and good government reforms.

We should remember Gov. Wolf's own words—"If you don't agree with my ideas, here is my request: please come with your own ideas. It's not good enough to just say no and continue with the same old same old."

Transparency is an idea whose time has come. If Gov. Wolf and his administration have better ideas for opening up state contract negotiations and ending this inherent conflict of interest, they should bring their solutions to the table.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 09:00 AM | Comments

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