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).

Union Dues Fund SuperPAC Spending Binge

JULY 23, 2014

A new $2 million political TV ad campaign represents the first foray of "SuperPAC" spending into Pennsylvania. And taxpayers are forced to pay for this political spending.

As we've noted before, SuperPACs—officially designated as "independent expenditure committees"—were authorized to operate in Pennsylvania by a court order. The organizations can accept an unlimited amount of union dues to spend on independent campaign ads for or against a candidate (but they cannot give directly to a candidate).

PA Families First, the SuperPAC behind the new ad—highlighted by Tom Fitzgerald—is indeed backed by union dues. State campaign finance records show that PA Families First received $500,000 from the national arm of SEIU and $550,000 from the national arm of AFSCME. Both are unions representing government workers.

The Democratic Governors Association is responsible for setting up PA Families First, and contributed another $695,000 from its coffers to PA Families First last reporting cycle.

The DGA made news itself this week for a major fundraising haul, again with much of the funding coming from union dues. Indeed, their last report shows more than $4 million received from the NEA, AFT, AFSCME, UFCW, and SEIU—all unions which represent government workers and public school teachers.

And as EAG News adds, which is worth repeating—this funding comes from union dues:

Someone will ask, so let’s be clear that this is dues money being used, since it is not a direct contribution to a candidate for office. Traditionally these funds are spent on media buys to promote a particular stance on an issue, which tend to appear in battleground states and coincide with the position of a recommended candidate.

The NEA contribution came from the NEA Advocacy Fund, which is a Super PAC. As we all know, “Super PACs’ corrosive influence undermines our system of democracy and threatens to make elections a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder,” unless, of course, it belongs to you. Then it’s pretty cool.

The troubling aspect of all this is that taxpayers are forced to subsidize this political spending.  Government union leaders of the NEA, AFSCME and others get to use public resources to collect their political money. Union dues, SuperPAC money, and even direct campaign contributions are taken out of teachers’ and government workers’ paychecks using taxpayers-funded resources.

This should not be. Public resources should not be used for partisan politics. It is time to pass paycheck protection.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 00:50 PM | Comments

Sherlock Investigates: Politics on the Public Dime

JULY 18, 2014

On Tuesday, former House Speakers Bill DeWeese and John Perzel were issued public demerits in the form of gold plaques hung beneath their Capitol portraits. That same day, a court filing specified charges in current state Senator Leanna Washington’s corruption trial. What do these seemingly unrelated events have in common?

In any investigation, one must first gather the facts:

  • Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan DiGiacomo said Sen. Washington’s crime was "using state paid employees to plan and organize her campaign fund-raiser during state workdays” and charged Washington with “theft of services” and “conflict of interest.”
  • John Perzel, released from prison in March after serving two years behind bars, “orchestrated an illegal scheme to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on developing massive voter databases and customized software that were designed to give Republican legislative candidates an electoral advantage.”
  • As for DeWeese, Karen Langley at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, “Prosecutors said he used public resources for political gain by compelling legislative workers to do campaign work.”

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to sense the pattern: Each came under legal scrutiny for using taxpayer dollars for campaign politics—a clear-cut crime… at least for legislators.

Also this week, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) released the latest edition of their magazine The Voice. In it, PSEA endorses Tom Wolf for governor and urges members to donate to PACE, their political action committee (PAC). That money is then donated to Wolf’s campaign. Indeed, he received more than $1.6 million in government union contributions in the month following the primary election.

Unrelated? Hardly. Let’s do some deduction.

The union dues money used to produce and distribute The Voice and the political campaign money it solicits is all collected using taxpayer resources. Worse, buried on page 24 is a notice telling members that 12 percent of their dues—which equals more than $7 million—will be spent on politics in just one year.

But a quick trip to my mind palace (AKA, Google) reveals that a few weeks ago, PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever told Scott Kraus at The Morning Call, “Dues aren’t used for political activity, other than to provide members with a list of supported candidates.”

Really? Something doesn’t add up.

How can government unions brazenly do what brings legislators public shaming and jail time?

Why can government union leaders get away with denying that dues are used for politics yet tell their members that $7 million will be spent on the same?

Are they Moriarty-like masterminds or are they simply not being held to the same standards everyone else—legislators and taxpayers alike—must live by?

The answer is… elementary. You’ll find it in our paycheck protection toolkit and you won’t need a magnifying glass.

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 10:06 AM | Comments

Teachers Unions Putting More Dues Money into Politics

JULY 15, 2014

While union leadership continues to repeat the myth that union dues cannot be used for politics, the latest newsletter from the Pennsylvania State Education Assocation again reveals, in small print, that 12 percent of members’ dues will be spent on politics next year.

That should not surprise anyone, given the rest of the magazine is chock full of political ads, endorsements, and calls to action.

PSEA 2014 IRS Notice

This is on the heels of increasing political activism out of the national teachers' unions. In case you missed it, last week the American Federation of Teachers decided to increase their union dues to bolster their political spending.  

To bolster the union’s coffers for the legal and political battles to come, the AFT leadership is asking members to support a two-stage dues hike that would add $5.40 a year to their bills this year and another $6.60 in 2015.

Most of the increase would go toward the “militancy/defense fund” and state and national “solidarity funds,” which support litigation, political activism and lobbying.

The $12 increase (over two years), would mean the AFT will collect almost $19 million more each year that can be used on politics. Last year, the AFT spent more than $28 million on political activity and lobbying, while more than half its spending went to the category "other," including gifts to other advocacy organizations.

Their sister organization, the NEA, spent $44.8 million on politics last year, not including their list of gifts to other political organizations. And as the Wall Street Journal reports, the recent NEA conference was full of political debate, while eschewing union transparency.

Delegates debated whether the union's president should write a letter to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder denouncing the NFL team name's "institutional racism." They also discussed a resolution supporting reparations for "the lingering impact of slavery" and "subtle Jim Crow policies and thinking" including "unconscious bias." These items were referred to a private committee for further discussion.

Some business items approved by the delegates did pertain to teaching. Delegates signed off on drawing up a list of books, for students from pre-K to graduate school, "that have LGBTQ and gender non-conforming themes" ($6,500) and a lobbying campaign for legislation that requires "sensitive and respectful discussions of gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation" ($24,140). They also adopted a resolution to promote "clean energy" in curriculums ($10,760).

The attendees voted down some in-house items: a proposal that would require the NEA's board to provide written justification for executive officers' raises, and another that urged the NEA to "bargain in good faith" with its internal union, the Association of Field Service Employees (AFSE), thus exemplifying "the behavior we advocate for in negotiations."

As for Pennsylvania, many teachers disagree with both the PSEA and NEA's spending on politics—and the lousy job the union does telling educators about it. As teacher Steve Calabro noted last month, one obscure notice does not make for notified teachers on such a critical issue.

"How much money is the government owed from teachers who don't take this into account when filing taxes?" Calabro askked. "This information should be a separate mailer that goes out the first week of January, not smothered in the back of a summer issue of a magazine that no one reads."

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 09:30 AM | Comments

Leaders Agree: Public Unions Are Blocking Reform

JULY 14, 2014

PA Government Unions

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai took to the podium last week, providing press and spectators his response to the Governor’s criticisms, blue-line budget reductions, and House priorities.

We applaud Rep. Turzai for making paycheck protection among the important issues discussed, stating:

I know there is controversy in respects to the paycheck protection issues, but I think this is important. With respect to the state [union] contracts, at that bargaining table you could've negotiated out the ability to collect political contributions or the ability to collect union dues. 

Despite the sparring between the Governor and state lawmakers, many public officials were united in their belief that public-sector unions are blocking desperately needed pension reform. As Governor Corbett noted, "The out-of-touch, paid union leadership of PSEA sent out an email blast, taking credit for blocking [pensions]. We need to have the public-sector teachers' union in Philadelphia step up and make concessions."

Senator John Eichelberger agreed saying, "When the PSEA brags about stopping reform to the pension system and promotes the unethical practice of having the government collect their political funding, something needs to change."

State Representative Jerry Knowles adds, "The truth is, common sense can't even be heard above the voices of the union leaders and special interests. Union leaders are controlling Harrisburg through the heavy handed tactics of their highly paid thugs and a bottomless pit of money they give to Democrats and a group of liberal Republicans."

Unions aren't just opposed to pension reform; they are blocking a host of needed reforms. Franklin and Marshall College political science professor Terry Madonna explains the union conundrum well in the context of teacher seniority reform,

The problem is, Pennsylvania public unions, particularly the teachers unions, are very powerful, and they have a lot of even Republican support. Now, they could pick up some Democrats, but Democrats in Pennsylvania are often union-backed. I think it’ll be very tough to move that legislation.

The stage is set to end the collection of union political money with taxpayer resources. It's time to restore fairness to the political process in Pennsylvania.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 09:34 AM | Comments

Government Unions' Political Power Persists

JULY 9, 2014

While labor unions nationwide have been on the defensive for the past few decades—especially in light of pro-worker measures in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana—Pennsylvania remains a bastion of union power, according to a series of articles in the Central Penn Business Journal (CPBJ) on the "State of the Unions."

According to the Business Journal, unions are confident that they are stronger and more united than ever. And if this past budget season tells us anything, it's that unions, particularly the powerful government employee unions like the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 (the state liquor store clerks' union), have wielded their immense political influence to stop Paycheck Protection, stymie pension reform, and sink liquor privatization efforts.

Given the government unions’ power, it’s no surprise to see Pennsylvania ranked fourth in the nation in union membership, trailing only California, New York, and Illinois. However, union membership in the state has been in steady decline, mirroring national trends. At the same time, union membership among those in Public Administration has risen slightly between 2003 and 2013.

One CPBJ editorial (pay wall) pointed out that while the businesses interviewed have often found private-sector unions to be willing partners who have adapted to declining union power and a changing marketplace, the public-sector unions have continued to thwart necessary government reforms.

"Nobody seems to care about the citizens and businesses that foot the bill for preserving the status quo. It's about time they did," the CPBJ editorial concludes. We wholeheartedly agree!

posted by TOM BAKO | 04:10 PM | Comments

Paycheck Protection Update

JULY 2, 2014

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks at the Capitol and the entire CF team has been working around the clock to make Paycheck Protection a reality in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it's going to happen this week. But our fight is far from over!

In just about a year and a half, Paycheck Protection went from an unknown, to a "fringe issue," to a nuisance, and then to a major policy priority on the table during budget negotiations. It is because of legislative champions, supporters, allies, grassroots activists, public school teachers and everyday taxpayers who have stepped up and made this a critical issue!

We're disappointed that we haven't yet ended this injustice of using taxpayer money to subsidize someone else's politics. But if you think taxpayers haven't made a difference, consider this: The legislature passed a new state budget with no new taxes and spending in line with inflation and population growth.

More people understand why pension reform, liquor privatization, property tax relief, and many other taxpayer-friendly issues haven't been resolved—because the taxpayers have to collect the money that is used to fight against these reforms.

Rest assured that we are pressing onward! The pressure to get victories for our kids, grandkids, and taxpayers across Pennsylvania will only grow through the summer and fall.

Our entire team at CF thanks you—our readers and supporters—for standing strong and making your voice heard as we continue to fight for freedom.

posted by MATTHEW BROUILLETTE | 03:44 PM | Comments

Gov. Unions Block Pension Reform

JULY 1, 2014

Lawmakers may have agreed on a no-new-taxes budget, but the cost drivers behind this year’s budget shortfall and Pennsylvania’s annual budget crisis remain unchanged. Chief among those cost drivers is the state’s ailing pension system, with our pension plans more than $50 billion in debt and warnings from all three bond rating agencies. 

With such a serious fiscal crisis why has nothing been done? The answer lies with public sector union CEOs who have for years denied a pension crisis, supported underfunded pensions for teachers and state workers, and lobbied against any reform.

The PSEA, for example, sent over-the-top emails to teachers saying a new pension reform proposal is “a new attack on YOUR retirement security,” and claiming it unfairly targets women, playing off absurd “war on women” demagoguery. The PSEA also sent mail to retirees claiming falsely that proposed reforms take away their pensions. 

In fact, for years leaders of both PSEA and AFSCME denied there was any problem with pensions.

In contrast to this misinformation campaign, our pension debt is a triple threat to Pennsylvania’s future and could lead to teacher layoffs, fewer government services, and retiree pension benefit cuts.

Increases in school pension costs are equal to the salary of 33,000 teachers, which means one in three teachers could be laid off. That is the equivalent of a family of four facing a tax increase of $900 annually to just to make up the payments for pension debt.

Pension reform is about protecting state employees, taxpayers, and future teachers and state workers. As long as government unions are permitted to campaign against it using taxpayer resources, all Pennsylvanians will suffer.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:20 PM | Comments

Taxpayer Collection of Union Political Money is Unique

JUNE 30, 2014

Paycheck protection opponents claim that other groups, like charities and insurance companies, are allowed to use taxpayer resources for their deductions, just like government unions. But are all paycheck deductions created equal?

1.) Unlike other paycheck deductions, taxpayers are collecting inherently political money for government unions.

Union dues and PAC campaign contributions—unlike charitable donations and insurance premiums—are inherently political. By their own admission, government unions charge members not only for services rendered (collective bargaining and other representational activities—the so-called “fair share” fee amount), but charges an amount over and above that can be used for political purposes. For example, the PSEA charges about 35% more than the “fair share” amount, which can go towards lobbying and political activities. Highmark can’t do that – they only charge for the cost of insurance. United Way can’t do that either. And no other private or political organization can have the taxpayers collect their campaign contributions.

As a result of a recent federal court ruling, unlimited amounts of union dues can now flow to “SuperPACs,” allowing unions to spend money in support of or opposition to candidates for public office.

So while union members and taxpayers are charged with bankrolling the political operations of government unions, the same is not done for charities and insurance companies.  State records reveal more than $700,000 in union PAC money was collected by taxpayers, but the State Treasurer could not identify any other PACs utilizing state resources to fill its campaign coffers.

2.) Government unions can shut down government to negotiate collection of their political money. Charities and insurance companies have no such power.

Government unions have the ability to require state and local governments to collect their political money, regardless of the taxpayers’ wishes.  If state or local governments refuse, union leaders are in a position to strike until their political privilege is restored. In contrast, charities and insurance companies are in no position to stop the business of government to demand collection of their political dollars.

3.) Employees who want to write a check for their union dues cannot.

Unlike other deductions, which are done at the request of employees and which they can opt out of, government collection of union dues and PAC contributions are required by union contracts. This cycle with taxpayers serving as the middle man prevents teachers and public employees from being able to hold their unions accountable for their political spending.

4.) Why SHOULD taxpayers collect the political money of government unions?

This is a matter of fairness and protecting the rights of union members and taxpayers who should not be forced to subsidize the political speech of anyone. The obfuscation of those opposed to paycheck protection is simply an attempt to distract from the issue at hand: Should taxpayers be forced to collect union political funds and campaign contributions?

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD, BOB DICK | 09:51 AM | Comments

What You Need to Know About the Paycheck Protection Bill

JUNE 26, 2014

Taking a strong stand for taxpayers, the House and Senate State Government Committees passed paycheck protection legislation this week. Both committees amended original versions of their respective paycheck protection bills. Below, we explain the key takeaways of today's amended legislation.

Summary of SB 1034 as Amended

The objective of paycheck protection is to end the use of taxpayer resources for political purposes.

Currently, Pennsylvania taxpayers collect three types of money for government unions:

  1. Dues and fees used to represent employees in collective bargaining and other representational activities,
  2. Dues that can be used for political activities such as lobbying, political advocacy, political action committee (PAC) fundraising, Get-Out-The-Vote drives, and more, but cannot be given directly to candidates,
  3. PAC campaign contributions that are given directly to candidates.

The amendment to SB 1034 prohibits public/taxpayer collection of all political money (2 and 3 above) for government unions.

  • This means taxpayer resources cannot be used to collect either "political contributions" (PAC money & campaign contributions) or the portion of dues that can be used for politics.
  • The amended version of SB 1034 allows for the continued collection of all union dues/fees that are used for collective bargaining and other representational activities.

The amendment would also prevent the use of public payrolls to collect funds that can go to SuperPACs.

  • A recent SuperPAC ruling allows "independent expenditure committees" to accept unlimited amounts of union dues to run "independent" TV, radio, and print ads in support of or opposition to a candidate in PA. The amendment would prohibit taxpayer collection of these funds.


  • This is similar to Idaho and Utah paycheck protection laws that:
    • Require unions to set up a separate (voluntary) fund for political activities
    • Prohibit public entities from collecting money for PACs or Political Activities
  • Idaho's "Voluntary Contributions Act" was upheld in 2009 when the Supreme Court ruled in Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association that the law "does not restrict political speech, but rather declines to promote that speech by allowing public employee check-offs for political activities."
  • Utah's "Voluntary Contributions Act" mirrors Idaho's and prohibits the use of government payroll systems for political contributions.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 03:56 PM | Comments

Another Step Forward for Paycheck Protection

JUNE 26, 2014

This morning, the Senate State Government Committee advanced Senate Bill 1034 to the floor. We applaud the Committee’s determination to make all levels of Pennsylvania government fairer and empower public employees to hold their union leaders more accountable in how they spend workers’ money on political activity.

That both House and Senate committees have acted on paycheck protection legislation this week shows there is a real desire to stop the use of public resources for political purposes. The momentum on this good government reform should encourage taxpayers and public employees who’ve long been forced to subsidize partisan political activity.

A big thanks to Chairman Lloyd Smucker and the Committee members who voted 'YEA' on paycheck protection—an important step that clears a path for a full Senate vote.

Please join me in thanking those Senators who stood with taxpayers and teachers!  You can click here to send them all a note of encouragement. Click on a Senator's name below to send a Tweet of thanks.

Sen. Lloyd Smucker, chair YEA Sen. Matt Smith, chair NAY
Sen. Mike Brubaker YEA Sen. Andrew Dinniman NAY
Sen. Jake Corman YEA Sen. Anthony Williams NAY
Sen. Mike Folmer YEA Sen. John Yudichak NAY
Sen. Chuck McIlhinney YEA
Sen. Joe Scarnati YEA
Sen. Don White YEA

posted by MATTHEW BROUILLETTE | 01:04 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.