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).



Audio: Teachers & Taxpayers Still Need Paycheck Protection

OCTOBER 29, 2014

It’s important to note—especially during election season—that one group of private organizations has an advantage over all others when it comes to funding their political agenda. That group is public sector unions, which are legally permitted to use taxpayer resources to collect their political money.

That advantage is highlighted this week as disgraced state Senator Leanna Washington is expected to plead guilty to using state Senate staff time to coordinate fundraisers and catalogue campaign contributions.

Why do we prosecute Sen. Washington for using public resources for politics on the one hand while turning a blind eye to a violation of the same principle by public sector unions?

During a recent radio interview, Matt Brouillette explained how this principle should apply to everyone:

Because if the PSEA, NEA is able to do it then why should the NRA be able be able to have their dues and PAC contributions collected at taxpayers’ expense? The answer is quite simple and taxpayers agree with us all across Pennsylvania, Democrats and Republicans alike, is that no one should use public resources for political purposes.”

Paycheck protection empowers teachers with more control over how their money is spent on politics and levels the political playing field. According to Matt:

We need to make sure that those teachers who disagree with their union have a strong voice to able to express that. When you empower them to have to write checks to the union before the union gets their money, that’s a measure of accountability that union simply doesn’t want. They want to treat those teachers like ATMs [and] continue withdrawing money spending on behalf of people who support the union’s agenda, not necessarily the teacher’s agenda.

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posted by JOHN BOUDER | 11:45 AM | Comments

What are Their Priorities?

OCTOBER 24, 2014

PSEA Political Money

At at time when teachers are complaining about having to buy school supplies for their students, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) reported spending $3,764,154 from union dues on political activities and lobbying alone in 2013.

We looked at prices from WalMart.com for our school supplies: pencils, pens, notebooks, and scissors. By simply using their political money to buy school supplies, the PSEA could have bought 1.7 million pens, 1.7 million notebooks, 1.7 million scissors, and 3.4 million pencils—enough for every single public school student in Pennsylvania. 

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posted by DAWN MELING | 09:30 AM | Comments

Victory for Student Safety

OCTOBER 23, 2014

In an important step for safety in the classroom, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill that will put an end to the abhorrent practice of “passing the trash.” Gov. Corbett recently signed HB 1816, which prevents teachers accused of abuse from quietly resigning and relocating to a new school without having to inform that new school of their alleged misconduct. The law strengthens the background check process and prohibits school districts from entering into “confidentiality agreements” that suppress abuse allegations.

Government unions had previously taken a neutral position on this commonsense legislation.

Of course, the vast majority of teachers are committed to the well-being of their students. But state lawmakers should be commended for addressing the rising claims of inappropriate relationships, abuse, and staff misconduct in the commonwealth. A most tragic victim of "passing the trash" was Jeremy Edward Bell, a twelve year old student who did not surivive educator abuse. HB 1816 will help ensure that such an atrocity never happens again. 

Having approved this important safety measure, attention should now turn to improving the quality of education in the commonwealth, both through expanded school choice and commonsense reforms to reward excellent teachers.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 03:45 PM | Comments

Teachers Pay the Price for their Unions' Politics

OCTOBER 22, 2014

CF recently attended a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) rally with the goal of bringing our message directly to the teachers and families of Philadelphia. What exactly is our message? PFT leadership is failing teachers, children, and the poor

The teachers we spoke with at the rally passionately expressed their frustration with the current situation. They have plenty of reasons to be upset.

But among them should be the fact that as a member of the PFT, they are compelled to pay approximately $800 annually to an organization that uses their dues to fund blatantly political activities, whether they agree with them or not.

Time and again, we hear that union dues cannot be used for political purposes. Yet the evidence doesn’t support the claim. By their own admission, Pennsylvania's five largest government unions spent more than $5.5 million of their members’ dues on politics and lobbying last year. The unions report these numbers to the state government.

So what sort of union political activities have teachers funded this year? Here are just some examples:

PFT Wolf 1

  • Another email was sent out to PFT members in September (below) urging teachers to canvass for Tom Wolf. 

PFT Wolf 2

The PFT isn’t the only teachers’ union using their members’ money for political purposes.

AFT-Pennsylvania paid for—with union dues—this mailer, repeating the "$1 billion education cut" myth, recommending Tom Wolf for governor and telling members to vote. The AFT also posted an endorsement page for Tom Wolf on their website.

The political expenditures don't end there. The AFT national headquarters gave $500,000 to PA Families First, a left-leaning Pennsylvania Super PAC, and it has announced it will spend $20 million on politics this election cycle—the largest amount in the union’s history.

The president of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, is no stranger to the political scene. She appeared at the PFT rally last week to implore Philly educators to vote for Tom Wolf. In fact, the AFT posted this video of the PFT rally in which Weingarten yelled "This Governor is morally bankrupt and he has got to go!" as "Crush Corbett" signs were waved.

To be clear, unions have a right to engage in the political process. But they should not have the right to fund their political expenditures without their members' consent or collect that money at taxpayers' expense.

posted by BOB DICK | 10:30 AM | Comments

Unions Bankroll Candidates on the Backs of Taxpayers

OCTOBER 20, 2014

Government unions have not been reluctant to use their exclusive political privilege to finance candidates this election cycle.

According to an AP analysis, four of the top ten contributors to Tom Wolf's gubernatorial campaign are government unions, combining for nearly $2.5 million in donations to Wolf. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with supporting a candidate for office. In fact, it’s a right protected by the First Amendment.

The issue here is not candidates receiving union money, but that union leaders use taxpayers resources to collect their political money.

It's unfair to force taxpayers to subsidize the collection of money for political causes they find antithetical to their own values and beliefs.

It’s not fair that government unions are the only entities that have their political action committee (PAC) money and union dues, which can also be used for political purposes, collected at taxpayers' expense.

Despite the Senate's recent vote against paycheck protection, the fight to restore fairness and level the political playing field will continue.

posted by BOB DICK | 02:44 PM | Comments

How the PFT Fails Philadelphia

OCTOBER 16, 2014

By standing in the way of tens of millions of new dollars for Philadelphia classrooms, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) has revealed its true identity—a self-interested, self-serving interest group that fails teachers, fails students, and fails the poor.

Today, the Commonwealth Foundation launched PFTfails.com to inform the city of Philadelphia—as well as all Pennsylvanians across the state—about the failed track record of PFT leadership. Instead of working to improve the broken status quo, PFT executives use children and teachers as pawns to protect their political influence.

And make no mistake: the status quo has demonstrably failed in Philadelphia public schools. More than 80 percent of students did not achieve proficiency in both reading and math in 2013, according to the Nation’s Report Card. Violence remains a major problem in city schools, with 2,485 violent incidents reported during 2013-14. Despite the abysmal performance and violent conditions, PFT leaders oppose charter schools and tax credit scholarship programs for low-income families seeking better, safer education opportunities.

Construct a broken system, defend a broken system, and trap low-income families in the broken system. That’s the PFT playbook. 

But it’s not just students and low-income families who are failed by union executives. PFT fails hard-working, high-performing Philadelphia teachers by clinging to rigid seniority mandates that can result in the best teachers being fired. What’s more, PFT refuses to embrace merit pay.

Why does PFT leadership stand in the way of higher salaries for excellent educators? Instead of encouraging and developing their best talent, PFT leaders oppose common sense reforms that would reward the most effective teachers and keep them in the classroom.

To make matters worse, the same teachers hurt by the PFT are forced to subsidize the PFT’s political agenda—whether the teachers agree with it or not. Philadelphia teachers are required to pay union dues or fair share fees—with an average annual cost exceeding $800—to various union affiliates just to keep their jobs.

Union executives take full advantage of their unique political privilege by spending dues at the astounding rate of $70,000 per minute on political television advertisements. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—the Washington D.C. based mothership of PFT—is primed to spend more on elections than ever before. This includes a recent gift of $500,000  financed by teachers' dues, and used for political attack ads via a ‘SuperPAC.’

All told, the PFT fails the entire city of Philadelphia by refusing to agree to health care concessions that would distribute an additional $54 million for classroom instruction in the current school year. Former Governor Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, and the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board all agree that this money belongs in the classrooms.

But the PFT refuses to compromise. Add it to the list of PFT failures. They fail us all when they put personal political scores ahead of what’s best for teachers, students, and the poor. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 10:45 AM | Comments

Yesterday's Paycheck Protection Vote

OCTOBER 16, 2014

Thanks to your voices, yesterday afternoon the state Senate suddenly voted on an aspect of "paycheck protection." Senator Scott Wagner proposed an amendment yesterday that would end the taxpayer-funded collection of union political money in school districts.

This was the first full floor vote in the movement for paycheck protection and 20 bold senators stood up to powerful special interests to proclaim that taxpayer resources should never be used for politics.

Richard Alloway John Gordner Elder Vogel
David Argall Scott Hutchinson Randy Vulakovich
Lisa Baker Dominic Pileggi Scott Wagner
Mike Brubaker Robert Robbins Kim Ward
Jake Corman Joseph Scarnati Donald White
John Eichelberger Lloyd Smucker Gene Yaw
Mike Folmer Patricia Vance

Thank you, senators!

While the amendment fell short, this is just a disappointment—not a setback—for the movement for ending the taxpayer-funded collection of union political money. Today was the last voting day before the election, but legislators can return to the Capitol until November 30 to take care of unfinished business. 

Clearly, work remains to convince some lawmakers to support a position held by 79 percent of voters—and 72% of union members—that union leaders, not government, should collect political money and campaign contributions, so continue to make your voice heard to your lawmakers. 

The full vote count is below.

Alloway, Richard L. (R)  Yes Gordner, John R. (R)  Yes Stack, Michael J. (D)  No
Argall, David G. (R)  Yes Greenleaf, Stewart (R) No Tartaglione, Christine (D) No
Baker, Lisa (R)  Yes Hughes, Vincent J. (D) No Teplitz, Rob (D)  No
Blake, John P. (D)  No Hutchinson, Scott (R) Yes Tomlinson, Robert (R) No
Boscola, Lisa M. (D)  No Kasunic, Richard A (D) No Vance, Patricia H. (R) Yes
Brewster, James R. (D)  No Kitchen, Shirley (D) No Vogel, Elder A. (R)  Yes
Browne, Patrick M. (R)  No Leach, Daylin (D)  No Vulakovich, Randy (R)  Yes
Brubaker, Mike (R)  Yes McIlhinney, Charles (R) Absent Wagner, Scott (R)  Yes
Corman, Jake (R)  Yes Mensch, Bob (R) No Ward, Kim L. (R)  Yes
Costa, Jay (D)  No Pileggi, Dominic (R)  Yes Washington, LeAnna (D) Absent
Dinniman, Andrew (D) No Rafferty, John C. (R)  No White, Donald C. (R)  Yes
Eichelberger, John (R) Yes Robbins, Robert (R) Yes Wiley, Sean (D)  No
Erickson, Edwin B. (R)  No Scarnati, Joseph (R) Yes Williams, Anthony (D) No
Farnese, Lawrence (D) No Schwank, Judith (D) No Wozniak, John N. (D)  No
Ferlo, Jim (D)  No Smith, Matt (D)  No Yaw, Gene (R)  Yes
Folmer, Mike (R)  Yes Smucker, Lloyd K. (R)  Yes Yudichak, John T. (D) No
Fontana, Wayne D. (D)  No Solobay, Timothy J. (D)  No    

posted by MATTHEW BROUILLETTE | 09:15 AM | Comments

Unions Leaders Put Politics Before Health Care

OCTOBER 7, 2014

The recent decision by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) to cancel the school district's contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT)—and require teachers to pay up to 13 percent of their health care premium—has been met with stunning hyperbole from both state and national union leaders.

According to the SRC, this will save $54 million this school year alone—money that can go back into the schools—and upwards of $70 million each year thereafter. Yet PFT President Jerry Jordan compared the SRC action to treating teachers like "indentured servants."

With an average teacher salary of nearly $71,000, though, it would be hard to mistake a Philadelphia teacher for a forced laborer—especially when the average household income is $37,000 in the city. Indeed, average Philly teacher salaries are higher than their counterparts in Chester ($63,600) and Delaware ($68,600) counties, and are not far behind those in Montgomery ($76,600) and Bucks ($80,900).

Keep in mind that the only change the SRC is making is asking teachers to pay part of their health care costs. The decision to impose modest premium sharing comes after years of deadlocked negotiations with the PFT leaders, who refused to budge one inch when it comes to health care payments.

Philadelphia teachers currently do not pay for their health benefits, and even under the new plan would pay far less than the average working Pennsylvanian, who pays 20 percent for individual or 23 percent for family coverage.

Is the PFT really concerned with protecting teachers, or maintaining its slush fund (the PFT "Health and Welfare Fund") which currently administers the health care plans?

Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—the Washington, DC-based mother-ship of the PFT— had an equally alarmist response to the SRC, calling their decision "the most egregiously political action I’ve seen in a school district."

Weingarten would know. Given her union's heavy involvement in Pennsylvania politics, she is an experienced political activist.

Both the AFT and PFT have taken full advantage of their unique political privileges to spend massive sums of money canvassing and cheerleading for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf. In early September, the PFT spent $70,000 for one minute of television advertising attacking Gov. Tom Corbett during an Eagles football game.

Surely $70,000 per minute could go a long way toward health care premiums—if the PFT were more interested in promoting the interests of its members than using forced dues to influence elections.

Furthermore, the AFT gave $500,000—directly from union dues—to the PA Families First 'Super PAC,' which has been on the air further promoting the lie that Gov. Corbett cut state education funding. All told, AFT is poised to spend more in 2014 than in any other election cycle.

Years of mismanagement, lagging academic performance, and declining enrollment have left Philadelphia in the unenviable position of making difficult choices to keep its schools financially viable. Union leaders are pretending to defend teachers with their rhetoric, but their actions demonstrate how they are exploiting teachers for political gain.

High-performing educators—and the children they teach—deserve better from union leadership. Given the PFT's refusal to negotiate in good faith for nearly two years, the SRC's action is a reasonable, necessary step for the School District of Philadelphia—despite the loaded rhetoric from hyper-political union bosses.

posted by MATTHEW BROUILLETTE | 02:19 PM | Comments

Union-Backed Report Rife with Hypocrisy

OCTOBER 3, 2014

Charter schools

Three union-affiliated groups released a report alleging that Pennsylvania charter schools defrauded taxpayers to the tune of $30 million since 1997. Predictably, this story has been greeted with glee from defenders of the education status-quo and those who oppose school choice. The union-backed report ultimately calls for a moratorium on new charter schools.

Try making that argument to the thousands of Pennsylvania families currently on charter waiting lists

Increased transparency and accountability for all public schools—both charters and traditional district schools—should be welcomed with open arms. But the findings from this particular report must be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. 

Government unions consistently fight tooth and nail to prevent the authorization of new charter schools—if for no other reason than to maximize the number of dues-paying teachers. They would rather maintain their political influence than let children find a better or safer school via school choice, and they cannot be trusted to provide impartial research on charters.

Of course, government unions are welcome to commission studies and engage in the political arena. We at the Commonwealth Foundation simply prefer they do so without forced dues collected at taxpayer expense.

Charters are already asked to do more with less, as they receive less money per student than traditional public schools. Now government union-funded research organizations are demanding that charters be held to significantly higher standards as well. Charter schools that fail to perform academically or suffer from financial mismanagement can be shut down, whereas school districts are never held accountable.

Where are the calls for a moratorium on district schools when one of their financial scandals makes the news? How about in the event of sexual abuse in a public school? Demanding charter schools be effectively shut down, while ignoring fraud and abuse in traditional public schools, fails to put the needs of students first. 

Charter reforms, like those in SB 1085, would make them more accountable and transparent while also expanding choice across the commonwealth. 

A moratorium on new charters, though, would only punish thousands of families seeking a better academic future. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 04:15 PM | Comments

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

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