Unions & Labor Policy

Paycheck Protection Primer

January 29, 2016 | Commentary by Commonwealth Foundation

Paycheck protection ends the use of public resources to collect government unions’ political money.

Under current law, state and local governments (including school districts) take both union dues—a portion of which is used for politics—and campaign contributions out of workers’ paycheck and send the funds directly to union leaders.

Paycheck protection will benefit union members, protect taxpayers, and has bipartisan support.

Historic Victory for Transparency

APRIL 14, 2016

Gov. Tom Wolf just signed Senate Bill 644, empowering the Independent Fiscal Office to estimate the cost of government union contracts before they are finalized.

Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of CF responded:

For years, the government has negotiated billions of dollars in contracts with public sector unions, many of which donate heavily to the very politicians they’re negotiating with. As a result of this legislation, costs negotiated in secret will come to light before, not after, contracts are ratified. We commend Sen. Folmer and members of the state Legislature for championing this critical reform.

Gov. Wolf has been a vocal advocate for transparency reform. He should be applauded for walking the transparency talk and putting people before public union interests. 

Brouillette continued,

We hope the governor applies this accountability measure to contracts he is currently negotiating, even if they are resolved before the law goes into effect in 60 days. Such action would resonate by providing greater transparency to all Pennsylvanians.

The contracts under negotiation could add significant costs to the 2016-17 budget, putting more pressure on state lawmakers to raise taxes.

Meanwhile, there are two more contract transparency reforms making their way through the legislature.

  • 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.
  • SB 643, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Aument, requires public notice and open meetings when public sector collective bargaining agreements are negotiated.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 03:33 PM | Comments

Transparency Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature

APRIL 6, 2016

Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled his “Government that Works” plan to reform contracting practices and increase transparency in government. Now, the state Legislature has given Wolf a chance to back up his rhetoric with action.

Today, the Senate passed Senate Bill 644, which would empower the Independent Fiscal Office to put a price tag on government union contracts before their ratification. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

“We congratulate SB 644 sponsor Sen. Mike Folmer for championing this vital transparency reform,” commented Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation. “Governor Wolf now has the opportunity to walk the walk on government transparency and accountability reforms.”

Wolf is negotiating contracts worth a combined $3.6 billion with 18 government unions, several of which donated millions of dollars to his election campaign. These contracts cover salary and benefits for state workers as well as special union privileges like release time and automatic payroll deduction for campaign contributions.

“If the governor is serious about ending conflicts of interest and fostering ‘government that works,’ he’ll sign this bill and shine light on contract costs,” Brouillette said.

Last year, taxpayers learned about $23 million in additional costs in a one-year contract with AFSCME only after the contract was finalized. Since 2000, average government worker benefit costs tripled from $12,732 to nearly $39,000. Total compensation per employee reached an average of nearly $93,000 in 2014-15.

If you would like to see how your senator voted on contract transparency, you can view the roll call here.

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 01:13 PM | Comments

Big Win for Transparency

MARCH 22, 2016

One year ago, Governor Tom Wolf began negotiating contracts worth billions of dollars with state employee unions. Despite his rhetoric about improving government transparency, these negotiations took place behind closed doors. To make matters worse, six of these government unions contributed more than $2.6 million to Wolf’s campaign.

Thankfully, yesterday's passage of SB 644 is a huge step toward revealing the price of these contracts before taxpayers are asked to foot the bill.

SB 644 garnered wide support in the House with a 108-83 vote and returns to the Senate, where it passed last summer by a wide margin. The bill provides taxpayers with an IFO (Independent Fiscal Office) estimate of the costs associated with each collective bargaining proposal before a ratification vote.

Why is this legislation so critical? Case in point: Last April, a contract was negotiated that added $23 million to the state budgetand taxpayers only discovered this news weeks after it was a ratified

Unfortunately, rapid increases in state employee costs are nothing new. Since 2000, average government worker benefit costs tripled with total compensation per employee reaching an average of nearly $93,000 in 2014-15.

Two more contract transparency reforms are also under consideration. SB 645, which requires collective bargaining proposals be posted online before a ratification vote, and SB 643, which opens collective bargaining negotiations to the public.

CF President and CEO Matt Brouillette noted the similarity between SB 644 and the governor's recent calls for transparency,

Last week, Gov. Wolf called for expanded government transparency, claiming, ‘special interests still wield too much power and influence in Harrisburg’. Now, Wolf has a chance to put his money where his mouth is.

Just last year, Wolf's spokesman explained that the governor is,"keeping an open mind on the bills and would review them on the merits if they reach his desk.” Wolf should back up his rhetoric on transparency by supporting this legislation. 

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 03:29 PM | Comments

Ghost Teacher Costs Allentown Millions

FEBRUARY 25, 2016

Allentown School District is no stranger to financial troubles. The third largest public school system in the commonwealth has been in financial distress for years. In 2011, the district laid off 112 teachers, in 2013, 100 teachers, and in 2014, 60 teachers lost their jobs. So it's understandable that former school board member Scott Armstrong and taxpayer Steven Ramos were upset to learn that the district paid more than $1.3 million since 2000 in salary and benefits to the Allentown Education Association (AEA) president, a teacher who doesn’t teach.

“It’s absurd that Allentown taxpayers are being forced to pay a union employee’s salary along with health and pension benefits,” said Allentown taxpayer Steven Ramos. “How many students could be educated with the more than $1 million the district has given to a private organization? This misuse of public money must end.”

The current AEA president is Deb Tretter. When Tretter left the classroom in 2009, her salary jumped from $63,245 to $73,373. In addition to the pay pump, Tretter receives a taxpayer-funded salary, insurance, benefits, pension credits and accrues seniority as if she were still employed as a teacher.

The Morning Call reports:

"Now, Armstrong, along with fellow Allentown taxpayer Steven Ramos, is taking his fight to court and asking a judge to end the long-held practice of releasing the union president from classroom duties.

Armstrong and Ramos . . . filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Commonwealth Court with the help of the Fairness Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm with offices in King of Prussia and Harrisburg.

They are requesting that the union reimburse the district — with interest — for salary, benefits and pension credits, which they say exceed $1.3 million since the practice began more than 25 years ago."

The lawsuit isn’t questioning the need for a full-time union president, but it is questioning why taxpayers should pay for another organization's employee.

A poll posted at Lehighvalleylive shows overwhelming support for the lawsuit’s argument that taxpayers should not be paying a union employee. Here are the poll results as of this morning: 

Allentown schools are struggling to meet basic needs like elementary music and art classes and updated textbooks. In this environment, it seems reprehensible that district leaders choose to spend tens of thousands each year on a ghost employee.

Watch a full report from WFMZ:


posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 09:23 AM | Comments

The Pretense of Democratic Unions

FEBRUARY 22, 2016

Control over the largest local teachers union in Pennsylvania is up for grabs.

The Caucus of Working Educators (WE) is challenging the leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) because they believe the current leadership is incapable of getting things done.

At first glance, this looks like a democratic process, and it is up to a point. PFT members can challenge and choose their leaders to keep the politically powerful in check. However, this election will only determine who controls the levers of power in the union. The legitimacy of the union's right to represent teachers who prefer different representation will not be on the ballot.

For these teachers, the latest leadership election is of little comfort. No matter who wins, the PFT will continue to represent all members, regardless of their opposition to the PFT as an organization. This is a big problem.

Unions purport to be democratic institutions, but they function more like entrenched bureaucracies, protected by complicated laws from competition. Under Pennsylvania law, unions are not required to stand for re-election once the state grants them the right to act as the sole representative for public employees.

As a result, more than 99 percent of public school teachers never had an opportunity to vote for the union currently representing them. This is not what democracy looks like. Public employees must be able to hold their entire union accountable, not just the union leaders.

If lawmakers want to shift the balance of power from union executives to union members, they can require unions to stand for regular re-election—instead of putting the onus on workers to navigate their way through the time sensitive and labor-intensive union re-election process.

Mandatory union elections is just one of the reforms we call for in our recent policy brief, Bringing Democracy to Pennsylvania Labor Unions. Independent bargaining—the ability of union members to negotiate their own compensation—is another way to empower workers.

If unions were focused on winning re-election, they would be more inclined to worry about their members’ needs, rather than spending millions in dues on political causes, many of which alienate their own members.

posted by BOB DICK | 03:51 PM | Comments

Taxpayer-Funded Union Politics in Philadelphia

FEBRUARY 18, 2016

It's no secret that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) plucks teachers out of the classroom to work as full-time union operatives. These individuals are known as ghost teachers—and their salaries are paid by Pennsylvania taxpayers.

How much? Philadelphia ghost teachers made more than $1.7 million in 2014.

The union is authorized by the School District of Philadelphia to pull up to 63 teachers out of the classroom to conduct full-time union work. According to the PFT, these teachers typically serve as information officers. But reporting from Evan Grossman of Watchdog.org explains that some ghost teachers work in an explicitly political capacity:

Hillary Linardopoulos, who has not taught in a classroom since 2009, “coordinates much of our political activism and legislative involvement,” according to an op-ed penned by union members that endorses its current leadership team going into an upcoming internal election. Since leaving the classroom, her taxpayer-funded salary has almost doubled to $91,156.

The PFT says it reimburses the district for ghost teacher wages, but documentation supporting that claim was not immediately available from the union.

The article continues:

Candidates running for positions on the PFT’s collective bargaining team have all been on leave from the classroom for years, according to documents obtained by Watchdog. Eight ghost teachers running for office earned a total of $874,305 last year working full-time for the union. On average, those eight individuals have been on leave for an average of 16 years. They’ve also received annual raises, despite a three-year wage freeze while the district and union have failed to negotiate a new teachers’ contract.

Union President Jerry Jordan and Vice President Arlene Kempin have been on leave for more than 30 years and have worked exclusively for the union longer than they taught in the classroom.

Fortunately, the battle to end this abusive system is underway in the state Capitol. House Bill 1649, championed by Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, prohibits employees on public school payroll from leaving the classroom to work full-time for unions. Sen. Pat Stefano intends to introduce similar legislation in the Senate.

Rather than subsidizing union lobbying efforts, it’s time for students and taxpayers to get what they deserve: good teachers in the classroom.

posted by JAMES PAUL, CODY STRYKER | 09:40 AM | Comments

Attack Ads Funded by Taxpayer-Collected Union Dues

JANUARY 22, 2016

Seeing a political attack ad on TV is nothing new. You probably roll your eyes and change the channel. But what if you learned you unwittingly helped put that ad on the air? Most Pennsylvanians would be shocked—and for good reason.

Since the end of December, the union-backed political group America Works USA has spent more than 1.1 million to air misleading ads slamming the state budget as "garbage" and parroting the Wolf administration's false claim that the budget "cuts education."

America Works TV & Cable Ad Buy

12/29/15 to 1/19/16

Media Market














Targeted by District




In a fact that would surprise many, the ads are funded with union dues and collected by taxpayer resources. This political privilege is partly responsible for facilitating America Works’ deceptive messaging campaign. Here is what we know about the group’s funding sources thus far:

  • AFSCME Council 13, representing Pennsylvania state workers, gave $115,000 directly to America Works USA.
  • The National Education Association, the parent union of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, gave $1 million directly to America Works USA.
  • The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) funds America Works USA.Government unions gave nearly $6.5 million to the DGA, according to the latest annual reports filed with the U.S Department of Labor.
  • Last year, the American Federation of Teachers—the parent union of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers—sent just under $1.5 million to the DGA. AFSCME National Headquarters sent more than $4 million.
  • Unions finance these contributions from the mandatory dues (not voluntary PAC contributions) of teachers and other state workers using publicly funded payroll systems.

This America Works’ union-dues funded misinformation campaign is not its first. Back in July, the group ran ads targeting lawmakers who opposed the governor’s massive tax increases. Regrettably, the ads aren’t the only instance of dues being used for political purposes. This is a pattern, not an anomaly.

Taxpayers should not be required to help fund blatantly political activities. And union members should be given the ability to hold their unions accountable if they feel their dues money isn't being spent appropriately. Paycheck protection legislation, which passed the Senate last year, can achieve both goals.

It’s time Pennsylvania require unions to collect their own attack-ad money and stop using public resources to bankroll their politics.

posted by GINA DIORIO | 11:17 AM | Comments

Pay Up or Get Fired

JANUARY 12, 2016

Imagine being told you have a choice: Write a check for $450 to an organization you don’t support, or lose your job. For tens of thousands of teachers across Pennsylvania this ultimatum is reality. Every year, teachers across Pennsylvania are forced to fund the government teachers’ union just to escape a pink slip.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a landmark case that could free these teachers—and thousands more public employees across the state and nation—from compulsory union support.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, challenges the requirement that public sector employees who are not union members financially support the union via “fair share” fees. The union claims these fees are for collective bargaining, but as The Fairness Center’s assistant general counsel Karin Sweigart, notes:

Unions regularly use these fees to influence how public money is spent—an inherently political activity. Every dollar devoted to funding troubled public pensions, excessive administrative overhead, or other misplaced union priorities is a dollar that could have been used for school supplies, social services, or countless other public priorities.

Sweigart, who addressed a crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court yesterday, added that teachers are simply asking the Court for something most Americans take for granted: “freedom from being forced to support someone else’s political agenda as a condition of employment.”

In Pennsylvania alone, teachers in approximately 70 percent of school districts must pay the teachers’ union or lose their job—whether or not they are members. For a full-time teacher who opts out of union membership, the “fair share” fee totals $448 for 2015-16. That’s nearly $450 just to stay employed.

No American should be forced to fund a private organization simply to keep their job. It’s time to restore true freedom to teachers and all public employees.

posted by GINA DIORIO | 09:37 AM | Comments

A Governor's Resolution List for 2016

JANUARY 5, 2016

Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf promised he would take state government in a "different direction" and grow the middle class. He pledged to do this by making Pennsylvania a magnet for private sector entrepreneurs without giving massive tax breaks to special interests.

Throughout 2015, the governor has strayed from those promises by vetoing a budget that held the line on taxes, privatized liquor and made an effort to protect the state's credit ratings through pension reform.

Of course, a new year provides new opportunities…or should we say a fresh start. So with the new year in mind, here are five resolutions the governor can work toward to deliver on his promises to Pennsylvanians:

Resolution #1: Return to the campaign promise not to raise taxes on working people.

As a candidate, Tom Wolf promised to protect low and middle-income people from a tax increase, but in 2015, he broke that promise. Fortunately, the governor has an opportunity to stand on the side of an overtaxed working class, and prevent policies that will expedite the exodus of Pennsylvanians.

Resolution #2: Level the playing field and cut spending on corporate welfare programs. 

Unbelievably, government spending has increased in 44 of the last 45 budget years. Cutting down or eliminating nearly $700 million in corporate welfare is a great way to save tax dollars and level the playing field for all Pennsylvanians.

Resolution #3: Deliver property tax relief by signing real pension reform.

Over the past year, the governor highlighted the onerous property tax system in Pennsylvania and proposed a tax shift to help, but such a shift does not solve the real problem: school budgets squeezed by pension costs.

To provide relief to homeowners, we need comprehensive pension reform that stops adding new debt and provides a method to pay down existing debt. That means converting to a 401k-type system and finding additional revenue (either through spending cuts or non-tax revenue sources) to pay for the more than $53 billion in benefits promised to public employees.

Resolution #4: Make government work smarter by getting out of the booze business.

Selling wine and liquor is not a function of state government. Government booze control leads to higher prices, fewer choices, less convenience, an inefficient bureaucracy. Selling the state stores would be a windfall for both taxpayers and consumers alike.

Resolution #5: Create "government that works" by increasing transparency and ensuring taxpayer resources are not used for politics.

Government should not grant any private organization unfair political privileges. This includes using taxpayer resources for the collection of political money. A true “transparency governor” will end these favors and restore accountability to taxpayers.

To strengthen our state and give Pennsylvania a real fresh start, these are five resolutions worth keeping.

posted by BOB DICK | 03:24 PM | Comments

Tax Hike of Christmas Past?

DECEMBER 17, 2015

Given the rumblings of an imminent vote on higher income taxes, it's important to remember what happened 12 years ago (nearly to the day!) with our state budget.

Ed Rendell was governor. Republicans controlled the House (108-95) and Senate (28-22). Republicans passed a no-tax-increase budget in early 2003 and were poised to reject job-crushing tax hikes. The governor had line-item vetoed education spending and was holding kids’ education hostage to get his tax increases. Sound familiar?

Gov. Rendell had demanded a 30 percent increase in the Personal Income Tax. I vividly remember Senate leaders in mid-November as they declared their steadfast resolve to not vote for higher taxes. Many expected the House and Senate would hold the line on tax increases. The public was with them!

But then, just before Christmas, the dam burst. 30 Republican representatives and 14 Republican senators–against the will of the majority of their majority–joined with enough Democrats to pass a 10 percent increase in income taxes. Governor Rendell signed the bill on December 23, 2003.

The borrowing of billions followed quickly in 2004, with massive spending increases each year thereafter.

Much has changed since Rendell’s first year in office. Over 76 percent of the House and Senate has turned over. The Republican majority is the largest in 60 years. What hasn't changed, however, are the forces that profit from Big Government: the government unions, which remain as powerful and wealthy as ever before. 

And yet here we are today. Will the legislature agree to massive tax hikes without meaningful pension or liquor reforms?

Will 2015 be a repeat of 2003?

It doesn’t have to be! Encourage your state Representative and Senator to stand strong against those who only want to tax more, spend more, borrow more.

Gov. Wolf’s year-long pursuit of higher taxes shouldn’t end like Gov. Rendell’s. History doesn’t need to repeat itself.

posted by MATTHEW BROUILLETTE | 05:00 PM | Comments

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