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).

Why we Need Paycheck Protection Now

NOVEMBER 19, 2014

Today, Commonwealth Foundation released a new summary of election-related spending by Pennsylvania's government unions.

In 2014, the seven largest government unions in the state gave $7.3 million directly to candidates—nearly $3 million more than in 2012. Not surprisingly, much of this money ($2.7 million) went to Tom Wolf, representing four of his 10 largest donors.

As we noted last week, government union political spending dwarfs that of gas companies, giving four times as much in direct campaign contributions.

In addition to PAC contributions, government unions gave $1.6 million—directly from union dues—to PA Families First "Super PAC" for election attack ads.

Our summary includes videos of these ads along with numerous examples of union dues being used on “soft” political contributions—including mailers and TV ads in support of candidates.

One of those mailings (see it here) resulted in a complaint from a PSEA member yesterday, as the union used her name in support of a candidate she opposes.

There is a story on the complaint in the Tribune Review today, with the PSEA both admitting they were wrong to send such a dishonest mailer, and finally confessing that they do use union dues to support candidates.

Unions may legally spend dues "to communicate with members and their immediate family" about a candidate their boards recommend, Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Wythe Keever said.

Keever said this particular type of communication wouldn't happen again.

It was the first time the union had attempted to personalize such letters, and Trometter wasn't the only PSEA member who was upset.

Keever said the union has apologized to about 30 members who complained about the personalized mailers, which were sent to at least 20,000 households.


Keever noted that the United States Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United lends a First Amendment protection to that communication over and above state statute. Citizens United is generally understood to have conferred First Amendment constitutional rights upon corporations. It applies to unions as well, specifically in Pennsylvania under the terms of a separate case, General Majority PAC v. Aichele, so long as the union does not coordinate with the campaign.

These blatant examples of partisan political spending—with funds collected at taxpayer expense—demonstrate why we need paycheck protection.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 04:51 PM | Comments

Government Unions' Political Spending Dwarfs Natural Gas

NOVEMBER 14, 2014

A rehashed report from Common Cause PA and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania assert that Marcellus Shale drillers spent $8 million on campaign contributions and $41 million on lobbying in Pennsylvania since 2007. But is that a lot?

When compared to government unions, it's a drop in the bucket. 

In terms of campaign expenditures, just a handful of the largest state government unions spent nearly 4 times what Marcellus Shale drillers did.

Political Action Committee (PAC) Expenditures of Government Unions
Union PAC Total, 2007 to Oct 2014
Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) $12,880,837
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) $1,718,274
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13 $4,113,578
PA Service Employees International Union (SEIU) $4,368,111
United Food and Commerical Workers (UFCW) 1776  $1,216,863
PA American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) $613,344
American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania (AFT-PA) $138,324
PA Families First* $2,916,561
American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO COPE (National) $337,900
AFSCME People $2,208,825
Total $30,512,617
* PA Families First is an Independent Expenditure Committee, or Super PAC, funded primarily through national government unions
Source: https://www.campaignfinanceonline.state.pa.us

In terms of lobbying, it is difficult to do an apples to apples comparison.

As Media Trackers reported this past summer, many government union leaders are ignoring the state lobbying law by failing to register as lobbyists with the state. What's worse, unions like UFCW spend millions in union dues on TV commercials asking voters to call their lawmakers and even hire contract lobbyists, but they don't count that spending as lobbying (rather, they categorize it as "representational activities").

Based on the limited reporting of union lobbying available—and missing 2014 information in most cases—just six government unions matched the $41 million in lobbying spending by gas drillers.

"Political Activities and Lobbying" from Union Dues by Government Unions
Union Total, 2007 to 2014
PSEA* $20,004,282
AFSCME Council 13 $9,042,586
PA SEIU $2,893,296
UFCW 1776* $2,787,936
AFT Pennsylvania $650,617
SEIU Healthcare* $5,181,561
Total $40,560,278
* Totals for PSEA, PA SEIU, SEIU Healthcare, and UFCW are through 2013 only
Source: http://www.dol.gov/olms/regs/compliance/rrlo/lmrda.htm

Combined—noting this is far from a complete picture—government unions spent a whopping $71 million on politics since 2007, dwarfing the spending of gas companies.

Moreover, taxpayers are paying to subsidize the collection of union political money.

Ironically, Common Cause, which co-wrote the piece on Marcellus Shale political spending, has stated that "Public resources are not supposed to be used for partisan political purposes." Yet, they take no position on using public resources to collect bigger campaign money for government unions.

The double standard is glaring. 

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 09:22 AM | Comments

Missing the Wave

NOVEMBER 5, 2014

Last night, candidates embracing free-market policies not only won legislative seats across Pennsylvania and our country, but in states like Wisconsin, Michigan—and even Illinois—gubernatorial candidates who made the case for fiscal restraint and union reform prevailed. In our own state legislature, Republican majorities in the both the House and Senate match the largest in almost 60 years.

So why did Governor Corbett miss yesterday’s national conservative wave?

Corbett's loss was not a rejection of his support for free-market policies, which voters endorsed in many other races. but the public's perception of the governor. This perception was influenced by a relentless, negative PR campaign by government union leaders. 

Government union leaders declared war on Governor Corbett from day one of his administration. But while they may have succeeded in defeating Governor Corbett, they failed in Pennsylvania—and across the country—to defeat taxpayers' overwhelming desire for sane fiscal policies. 

Poll after poll shows voters want liquor privatization, school options for their kids, pension reform to save their homes, lower taxes to spur economic growth, and reduced government spending.

Persistent and well-funded opposition from government union leaders stymied critical pension reform as well as popular liquor privatization efforts, either of which would have hugely boosted Corbett’s perception among voters as an effective leader. In contrast, voters in Wisconsin and Michigan—swing states like Pennsylvania—supported their incumbent governors’ bold leadership in taking on these forces with meaningful reforms. 

Those unresolved issues will challenge Governor-elect Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature. Voters will be looking for bold leadership in the General Assembly to set and implement a taxpayer-focused agenda. 

posted by COMMONWEALTH FOUNDATION | 02:44 PM | Comments

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

Total Records: 275

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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.  The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.