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.

Government Unions' Unfair Political Privilege

September 19, 2013 | Commentary by Commonwealth Foundation

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.

Are Teachers' Union Dues Used for Politics?

MARCH 31, 2014

Did you see the PSEA's latest Voice magazine? It features a full two-page article, claiming, among other things, that "no dues money is given to candidates." This is true as far as it goes.

But they leave out key facts. Like that union PAC money—campaign contributions that are given to candidates—is collected from workers' paychecks using taxpayer-funded resources. And that union dues are used to support partisan politics and candidates—like the 5 pages in the PSEA Voice dedicated to supporting Rob McCord.

The PSEA is required by law to tell members how much of their dues go to politics. Their June edition of the Voice told members the union estimates it will use 12 percent of their dues on politics and lobbying in 2013-14. This would represent more than $7 million this year, significantly higher than the $3.8 million they reported spending on political activity and lobbying last year.

PSEA Disclosure Dues for Politics

Despite what you may have heard, teachers' dues are used for politics.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 00:14 PM | Comments

Union Leaders’ Paycheck Protection Deceptions

MARCH 21, 2014

CF President Matt Brouillette and Simon Campbell of Pennsylvanians for Union Reform recently appeared on  Business Matters to debate government union bosses Wendell Young IV of UFCW 1776 and David Fillman of AFSCME Council 13 on the merits of paycheck protection.

The two union bosses—who spent a combined $1.2 million of members' dues on political activity and lobbying in the 2011-12 election cycle—made some rather startling claims including the following (1:26):

There are no taxpayer resources being used [to collect union political money].

This is strange coming from Fillman given that the payroll systems used to collect union dues, fees, and even campaign contributions are funded by the public. In many cases, physical checks are even sent from the state to Fillman’s union’s headquarters. If taxpayers aren’t paying for this, who is?

Later, Wendell Young denied Matt’s point (5:54) that taxpayers are aiding in the collection of campaign contributions and union dues, which can be and have been used for politics. As we have repeatedly shown (here, here ,and here), union dues can be used for a variety of “soft” political activities including newspaper ads like AFT’s deceptive full-page ads on Gov. Corbett’s mythical $1 billion in education funding cuts. Unions themselves report this political spending.

After making his erroneous claim about union dues, Young continued to struggle with the facts (7:52):

As a very vocal minority of interests in Harrisburg, they’re [paycheck protection supporters] trying to silence the majority.

There are two problems with this claim. First, a majority of union members and Pennsylvanians support paycheck protection.  Secondly, paycheck protection does not silence union members or union bosses.  Government unions and members would still be free to engage in the political process, as is their right—the unions would just have to collect their own political money.

The deceptions didn’t end there. Young went on to say this about the supporters of paycheck protection (11:43):

He [Gov. Corbett] supports what they support in that he would be willing to discriminate against union workers and deny them the convenience that workers all across the country have.

To say paycheck protection is an effort to discriminate against workers is absurd. The purpose of the legislation is to level the political playing field, not single out government workers. The fact is, no other political organization can use taxpayer resources to fund a partisan political machine.

Union leaders are stretching the truth to the breaking point because they can’t justify their special privilege to use public resources for politics. For them, it’s all about control. 65 percent of union households believe paycheck protection would empower individual workers to have greater control over how their money is spent—and they don’t want that to happen.

posted by BOB DICK | 11:05 AM | Comments

Senator Uses Public Money for Politics – So What?

MARCH 14, 2014

All this hyperventilating over allegations that State Senator LeAnna Washington’s summer birthday bash included some surreptitious use of taxpayer resources for campaign fundraising is really a bit much...

Sure, she may have pressured her campaign staff into violating the “bright line” between public money and partisan politics—what of it? Campaign contributions were tallied and envelopes stuffed and stamped on the taxpayers’ dime? Nothing to see here.

What’s all this talk of 12 years in prison and other criminal penalties? Surely she could just offer to reimburse the state for any public expense incurred and all would be forgotten, right?

The history of Pennsylvania politicians using public funds for personal gain goes back decades. They’ve been at it so long—can’t we just ignore it by now?

Those must be the thoughts running through government union leaders’ heads upon the announcement of Sen. Washington’s public corruption charges.

Because when it comes to violating the integrity of public resources, her alleged misdeeds pale in comparison to the way government union leaders use their special legal carve out to fund their own political agendas.

Publically-funded payroll systems collect and bundle government union members' dues and campaign contributions, then send them to union accounts on a daily basis in Pennsylvania. Physical checks are even printed, signed, and mailed using public funds—sound familiar, Sen. Washington?

In 2012, the line between public funds and partisan politics was violated by government unions with nearly $5 million in members’ dues spent on political activity and lobbying. Add to that nearly $4 million in government union PAC contributions given directly to political candidates.

That's $9 million spent on politics, the vast majority collected using taxpayer resources. Sounds like cause for legitimate outrage—maybe even more than an ill-advised birthday fundraiser.

But government union leaders say they've offered to reimburse the state for any expense involved in automatic deduction. That makes it ok, right? Wrong.

Regardless of cost, 80 percent of union households agree that taxpayer resources should not be used to collect campaign contributions. Principles matter. Sen. Washington's abuses will not be forgotten if she reimburses the state for her fundraiser expenses.

But, union bosses say, we’ve been doing it this way for years—why change things now? When is the last time decades of wrongs eventually made a right? By that logic, former House speaker John Perzel should never have been jailed for using public resources for politics. He was just another in long history of bad actors.

John Micek at PennLive puts his thoughts on the latest political corruption scandal rather emphatically (bolding in original), "It. Is. Illegal. For. You. To. Use. Taxpayer. Resources. For. Political. Purposes."

Today, that applies to you, me, Sen. Washington and everyone in the state—except for government union bosses.

Shouldn't the same principle apply to everyone equally?

Tell your legislators to take a highlighter to that “bright line” both union members and taxpayers agree on. Tell them to separate public resources from politics once and for all by passing paycheck protection.

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 02:00 PM | Comments

Super PAC will Super Size Union Dues in Politics

MARCH 12, 2014

You may have read articles about a federal judge allowing a "Super PAC" to operate in Pennsylvania to attack Republicans. Effectively, Super PACs can collect and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. They can't give directly to candidates or coordinate their efforts with candidates, but can run TV and radio ads or mailers supporting or attacking candidates.

What is noteworthy is this ruling allows the "Super PAC" to collect an unlimited amount of union dues to influence elections. These dues are currently being collected at taxpayer expense.

The group spent $8 million in New Jersey last year, and could do much more in Pennsylvania, as both state and national unions have already named Pennsylvania a key state for 2014, even going so far to admit they will use union dues to help to put Democrats in control of the legislature.

While unions have every right to spend money on politics, they should compete on a level playing field and collect their own political money, rather than using taxpayer resources.

Tell your lawmakers to help stop the use of taxpayer resources to support partisan politics.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 03:45 PM | Comments

Union Dues Still Fund Politics & Union Members Don't Like It

MARCH 4, 2014

Last night, I spoke with ABC 27 about polling that shows the vast majority of union household support ending taxpayer collection of union political money.

See the video below:

In response, Rep. Mike Sturla makes the claim that union dues aren't used on politics. As we've explained before, there are two reasons why he is wrong.

First, public resources are used to collect union campaign contributions that are given to candidates for office, through the same payroll deduction process. Government union PACs contributed nearly $4 million to state candidates in 2011-12.

Second, while union dues can't be directly given to candidates, they are used to fund political TV and radio ads, mailers supporting or opposing candidates, lobbying, fundraising for union PACs, and independent expenditures supporting a candidate in an election. We've chronicled a list of union political spending here. Just today, we highlighted a union-funded ad which distorts state education funding.

Union dues also fund other political organizations, such as Keystone Progress (the group claiming Gov. Corbett is murdering people), the Keystone Research Center, and "Pennsylvanians for Accountability," a group running anti-Republican attack pieces.

Taxpayer resources are used to collect union dues and campaign contributions, union dues are being used for politics, and union members don't like it!

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 06:00 PM | Comments

The $1 Billion Lie Exposed

MARCH 4, 2014

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) took out full-page, color ads in several major state newspapers last week proclaiming Gov. Corbett "closed neighborhood schools" and laid off teachers in Philadelphia through massive education funding cuts. In the western part of the state the ad warns, "Don’t let Allegheny County be the next Philadelphia."

These ads were grossly misleading. State funding for public schools is at an all-time high. The $1 billion in "cuts" was the expiration of temporary federal stimulus money. 

So we ran our own ad today correcting the record.

AFT claims Gov. Corbett and state lawmakers "cut $1 billion" in education spending in the state budget. But the real facts about education spending are something else entirely.

The 2013-14 budget spends nearly $10 billion and the proposed 2014-15 budget calls for $10.1 billion for PreK-12 schools—an all-time high, even exceeding when the state budget included federal stimulus funds. As you can see in the chart below, the AFT's claims are simply untrue.

$1 billion cut ed graph

But the worst part of the AFT's misleading campaign is how it was funded—by teachers' dues collected using taxpayer resources. It’s time unions are held accountable for dishonest political ads they run at the expense of educators and taxpayers across the state.

We should stop this practice which gives government unions an unfair political privilege to engage in politics.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 09:00 AM | Comments

Plagiarism: Union Style (Part 2)

FEBRUARY 28, 2014

recent letter to the editor in reaction to my op-ed on paycheck protection starts:

I live in the Malvern area, served 24 years in the military and this year started my 15th year of public school teaching in the Phoenixville Area. After having read the op-ed by Bob Dick, I felt compelled to respond to what I feel is an example of misleading and slanted writing that I would not allow my students to submit for a grade.

But the author never gets around to addressing any "misleading and slanted" claims in my op-ed. This is understandable because the rest of his letter is almost an exact copy of another that appeared in a different paper under a different name.

The first letter was published by The Delaware County Daily Times on February 24. It’s signed by a retired teacher from Springfield—a couple of sample paragraphs follow:

But Gov. Tom Corbett and his special interest allies, along with some members of the General Assembly, are pushing a legislative attack on workers’ voluntary deductions, for two simple reasons – to silence the voice of the workers, and improve his re-election chances.

Pennsylvania is just the latest state for this political scheme. Out-of-state billionaires and corporate special interest groups, who are working behind the scenes in Harrisburg, have pushed similar legislation in other states. Here in Pennsylvania, one of the front groups is the right-wing Commonwealth Foundation. Bob Dick, a representative of that group, recently claimed in an op-ed that opponents of this scheme were not truthful – strange words coming from an organization that refuses to identify its wealthy donors.

The other letter, signed by a current public school teacher, was published in The Mercury a day later. Notice anything familiar? 

But Gov. Tom Corbett and his special interest allies, along with some members of the General Assembly, are pushing a legislative attack on workers’ voluntary payroll deductions, for two simple reasons — to silence the voices of workers, and improve his re-election chances.

Pennsylvania is just the latest state for this political scheme. Out-of-state billionaires and corporate special interest groups, who are working behind the scenes in Harrisburg, have pushed similar legislation in other states. Here in Pennsylvania, one of the front groups is the right-wing Commonwealth Foundation. Bob Dick, a representative of that group, recently claimed in an op-ed that opponents of this scheme were not truthful — strange words coming from an organization which refuses to identify its wealthy donors.

Aside from the introductory paragraph, the letters are identical.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time unions have resorted to plagiarizing to misinform the public. And of all people, teachers should know better.

Clearly, we are supposed to believe that teachers around the state are up in arms over paycheck protection legislation. But 80 percent of union households don’t think taxpayer resources should be used to collect campaign contributions.

I can only hope that these teachers and their unions set better examples of integrity and honesty for our students in the future.

posted by BOB DICK | 02:56 PM | Comments

Unions Pouring Big Money in Pennsylvania Elections

FEBRUARY 27, 2014

As we've pointed out in the past, unions—often using campaign contributions collected at taxpayer expense—dominate political spending and electioneering.

Well, the first campaign finance reports for the 2014 gubernatorial election have been released, and sure enough, unions (along with millionaires self-financing their own campaigns) are pouring money in. As Media Trackers PA reports, union PACs have given more than $500,000 directly to candidates already, not counting the millions unions spend from dues supporting or opposing candidates with independent ads.

Media Trackers’ review of campaign finance documents filed with the PA Department of State reveals that, to date, labor unions have collectively made contributions totaling more than $550,000 to State Treasurer Rob McCord and Montgomery County Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz.

We've noted before the unfortunate irony that State Treasurer Rob McCord signs the checks that fund government union PACs before those union PACs contribute to his (or his opponents') campaign.

Another former state treasurer has also weighed in on the issue of taxpayer collection of union political money. Bob Casey, now U.S. Senator, also signed checks from the state treasury over to government union PACs, while his campaigns were funded by those same union PACs. According to FollowtheMoney.org, Casey's top eight "noteworthy contributors" as a candidate for state offices were all Union PACS, five of which use taxpayer resources to help collect their political money.

Not surprising, Casey supports this political power cycle.

TABLE 2: Noteworthy Contributors to CASEY JR, BOB

Noteworthy Contributor




Public Sector Unions
2002-2004 9 $840,000
General Trade Unions
2000-2002 8 $170,500
General Trade Unions
2002-2004 5 $105,900
Transportation Unions
2002 2 $100,000
General Trade Unions
2004 6 $49,500
General Trade Unions
2000-2004 23 $31,600
Public Sector Unions
2004 4 $20,000
Public Sector Unions
2004 2 $20,000

Taxpayer resources should never be used for politics. Click here to tell your lawmakers to end this practice and its corrupting influence.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 11:16 AM | Comments

Media Attention for Paycheck Protection

FEBRUARY 21, 2014

Our new paycheck protection survey released this week has Pennsylvania talking. Why? The results show union members overwhelmingly agree that taxpayer resources shouldn’t be used for their unions' politics. 

The survey found 80 percent of union households do not believe taxpayer resources should be used to collect campaign contributions. 67 percent of union households believe taxpayer resources should not be used to collect union dues, and 58 percent favor paycheck protection legislation to end government unions’ unfair political privilege. These results has received coverage from a number of media outlets:

Our survey has also received attention from elected officials like Senator Eichelberger who wrote, "The results may seem startling to many, but to those of us who deal with unions regularly, it’s no surprise that the rank and file have the opposite position of the highly-paid union bosses you see quoted in the media."

Senator Eichelberger is exactly right. While union bosses oppose paycheck protection, the average union member supports ending the practice of using taxpayer resources to collect unions' political money. This disconnect should not come as a surprise given that members rarely hear from their state and national union officials.

posted by BOB DICK | 00:59 PM | Comments

Big Labor's Billions Targeting PA

FEBRUARY 20, 2014

Unions are spending millions on politics, and drumming up issues like a minimum wage increase, solely to win some elections, the New York Times reports today. Union leaders are specifically trying to defeat Republican governors and legislators in a few states, including Pennsylvania:

A.F.L.-C.I.O. leaders said they would focus this fall on four industrial battlegrounds — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, traditional union strongholds — and Florida. Their hope is to not only oust the Republican governors of those states, but also to flip several of the legislative chambers. In all five states the Republicans control both houses.

Ironically, union leaders claim they are trying to catch up with big corporations after the Citizens United ruling—yet it was unions who benefit from the Citizens United ruling and the subsequent rise of "SuperPACs." As Eric Boehm of Watchdog.org reports:

An analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that tracks political spending, of groups and individuals who wrote checks of more than $10,000 to super PACs and other political committees found big labor outspent big business by a margin of more than 2-to-1 during 2013.

Of course, unions dominated political spending long before that. Ten of the top 14 "heavy hitters" in national politics are unions, according to Open Secrets. Moreover, 18 unions spent more on politics than the Koch brothers, the supposed puppet-masters of the "vast right wing conspiracy."

But direct spending on federal elections is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of union political spending. In addition, unions spend heavily in state and local races, and far more in political activity and lobbying from union dues. Nationally, unions spent $1.7 billion on politics in 2011 and 2012.


Unions are able to dominate political spending because, unlike every other political organization, taxpayers support their spending binge. State and local governments, including school districts, collect union dues (that can be use for politics) and even their campaign contributions using public resources and send a check right to union leaders.

This unique privilege creates an unfair political advantage that hurts taxpayers, workers, and even union members.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 03:15 PM | Comments

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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.  The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.