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).

Mary's Law is Introduced

JANUARY 28, 2015

Paycheck protection legislation, known as "Mary’s Law," was officially introduced in the state House of Representatives as HB 238. With the backing of 39 co-sponsors, Mary’s Law seeks to end the taxpayer-funded collection of union political money.

Mary's Law is named after Mary Trometter, a PSEA member from Williamsport who saw the union use not only her dues, but her name in endorsing a candidate she didn't support. You can watch her story here.

Recently the PA Independent highlighted the questionable nature of the PSEA's political activities under current law, noting that the PSEA has been ignoring reporting requirements for 40 years.

Trometter filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in November. Her attorney, David Osborne of The Fairness Center, argues that the NEA letter and PSEA publications supporting Wolf’s candidacy are illegal under a 1970 state law.

The law says unions cannot use organization funds to make contributions in support of a political candidate, and they must report violations to the state within 90 days, he argued.

The PSEA and NEA responded that the letter and pro-Wolf material in a PSEA magazine are not contributions.

The passage of Mary’s Law is a matter of ethics, as Reps Cutler, Evankovich, and Knowles write in a recent op-ed. The bill would ensure that public resources are never used for politics and would empower union members by requiring union officials to directly seek support for political activities.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 01:03 PM | Comments

Will Gov. Wolf Stay True to "Openness" in Government?

JANUARY 26, 2015

Gov. Tom Wolf's first week in office included several moves to paint a picture of ethics and transparency in state government.

First Wolf issued executive orders banning executive staff from accepting gifts, and forbidding no-bid legal contracts. Barry Kauffman, Pennsylvania head of the liberal group Common Cause says this is about ending conflict of interest:

"So, you give a $50,000 campaign contribution and you get a $2 million reward through a no-bid contract … That's a heck of a return on the investment."

Then, in a controversial move to terminate a Corbett appointee, Wolf defends his action on grounds of openness and transparency

"We need to be as ethical as we can and be as transparent as we can. To me the way this process was done was anything but open and politicized. What I'm concerned with is a less than open process." …

"We ought to do this right and find the best possible person for this job and not make this a backroom deal that so often erodes trust in government."

But as I noted in a recent op-ed, Gov. Wolf will soon be facing his own potential conflict of interest, when he negotiates contracts with government union leaders.

These contracts, which include salary and benefit provisions, cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Moreover, they can include provisions where the state, at taxpayer expense, will collect the political money that is given to candidates—like Governor Wolf himself.

During the 2014 election, government unions contributed $3.4 million to the Wolf campaign—far more than the paltry contributions Barry Kauffman is concerned about—and spent millions more on independent expenditures through Super-PACs.

By no means should any politician be able to negotiate over the collection of his own campaign contributions.

We hope Governor Wolf will stick to his pledge of transparency and make these contract negotiations open to the public rather than a backroom deal. And we look forward to working with Gov. Wolf and advocates like Barry Kauffman toward reforms that reduce the conflict of interest when negotiating contracts with political donors.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 04:30 PM | Comments

Audio: Mary's Law Ends Unfair Political Privilege

JANUARY 14, 2015

Government unions have the luxury of using taxpayers’ resources—which should never be used for politics—to collect their political dues money and direct campaign contributions. Simultaneously, these unions have been wrongly representing their own union members’ opinions by declaring that some, like Mary Trometter, support political candidates that they do not.

CF’s Bob Dick explains how Mary’s Law, named after Mary Trometter and also known as paycheck protection, would put an end to this unfairness.

Bob points out that it’s morally wrong for anyone to “be forced to subsidize political policy they disagree with.”

Mary’s Law would force union leaders to come face-to-face with the employees they represent, allowing members to ask why their union is spending their dues on candidates they might not support.

Listen below to hear Bob on WSBA 910's The Gary Sutton Show as he explains why Pennsylvania needs  Mary’s Law now.

The Gary Sutton Show airs daily on WSBA 910AM in the York area.

Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.

And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps.

posted by JONATHAN REGINELLA | 02:32 PM | Comments

Union-Backed Political Group Not Accountable

JANUARY 14, 2015

Here's your daily dose of irony: Pennsylvanians for Accountability, a union-backed political nonprofit, may have to pay a $50,000 fine for its lack of accountability. According to The Center for Public Integrity, the group failed to file a mandatory tax return critical to providing a look at its internal operations.

Back in 2013, we first pointed out that the group—which has run attack ads and mailers targeting Tom Corbett and House Republicans—received large contributions from government unions (using union dues) to fund their political ads. Well, here’s more evidence confirming what we already know:

As a social welfare nonprofit, Pennsylvanians for Accountability isn’t required to reveal the identities of its funders. Therefore, it wasn’t known during its advertising barrage who was bankrolling the group — or even who was leading it.

But Department of Labor records and tax documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity show three unions combined to give Pennsylvanians for Accountability $1.11 million — 90 percent of the money it raised between Sept. 1, 2012, and Aug. 31, 2013, the tax year covered by the return.

The largest donors to the group were the National Education Association (NEA), followed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Pennsylvania, and the SEIU national chapter. The group also received funding from another union-backed organization, America Votes, which itself received $334,500 from the NEA in 2013-2014.

Not only was the group funded by government unions, but it was staffed by union activists:

In state business filings, Pennsylvanians for Accountability lists three union-connected activists — Linda Cook, Kevin Kantz and Georgeanne Koehler— as the people who incorporated the group. The same three union activists, who are all Pennsylvania residents, are listed in the group’s new tax filing as its only officers.

Both Cook and Kantz have worked for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, where, tax records show, they both served as directors as recently as 2012. Koehler also has ties to organized labor: she's an SEIU member and healthcare activist.

When a reporter with Publicsource.org attempted to uncover more information about the left-leaning group, he had no such luck. In fact, when he interviewed one of the union activists associated with the group, she said "I'm not sure who started it or why it was started, other than they want to fight for a better life for our citizens" and "I don't know who’s in charge."

Public employees who believe their union dues should not be given to political organizations like Pennsylvanians for Accountability should support Mary's Law, which would allow union members to withhold the political portion of their dues if members feel their union is not spending their dues properly.

That’s real accountability. 

posted by BOB DICK | 11:06 AM | Comments

Disappointed and Determined

JANUARY 12, 2015

Today, I am both disappointed and determined.

I am disappointed that it is now a mathematical impossibility for any of the reforms you and countless other Pennsylvanians have demanded to reach Governor Corbett’s desk before he leaves office.  That includes not just paycheck protection, but also pension reform, liquor privatization, broader school choice, the Taxpayer Protection Act, and any number of long-overdue, common-sense policy priorities.  As you well know, CF has been making the case aggressively for these changes not just throughout the current administration, but since our founding in 1988.

I am also determined, because I believe with all my heart that our battle is not ending—it is only beginning.  When I moved to Pennsylvania 13 years ago, these ideas were laughed out of the room in our State Capitol.  Even two years ago, when CF took it upon itself to educate our state about the importance of ending the taxpayer collection of union political money, we were ridiculed by people who were supposed to be our friends.  Today, these issues are at the forefront of the debate, because we have gone on offense against the root of bad policy—namely the unfair political and financial advantages enjoyed by the most powerful advocates of big government.

Those forces marshal $175 million per year that we, the taxpayers, collect for them.  We haven’t beaten them just yet.  But I am totally convinced that if we stay on offense, we will!

I'm reminded of a quote that is frequently attributed to Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Keep fighting!

posted by MATTHEW BROUILLETTE | 03:59 PM | Comments

PSEA Admits Using Dues for Politics

DECEMBER 29, 2014

The Pennsylvania State Education Association admitted using union members' dues, via a "SuperPAC," to fund an election mailer supporting Governor-Elect Wolf, following a public apology last month for the mailer's content. The PSEA also admitted to using its dues-funded magazine to support candidates for office.

The PSEA responded to the charge filed with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in November by PSEA member Mary Trometter and the Fairness Center, confirming that the union used members' dues money to fund the election mailer that Trometter found offensive and demeaning.

The PSEA attempts to justify its action by citing the case of Citizens United v. FEC. Their hypocrisy is rich, though, as union leaders from both the NEA and PSEA often criticize this case.

This again reiterates why public resources should never be used for politics.

New legislation named "Mary’s Law" will soon will soon be introduced in the Pennsylvania House and Senate.  This bill, also known as paycheck protection, would end the taxpayer-funded collection of political money. Mary's law would require union leaders to collect political money directly from members, and be more accountable to teachers like Mary.

Click here to send an email to your lawmakers to support Mary's Law.

For more information about this topic, visit our Paycheck Protection toolkit

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 03:41 PM | Comments

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.

Listen here or below for more:

The Gary Sutton Show airs daily on WSBA 910AM in the York area.

Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.

And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps.

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 11:45 AM | Comments

Total Records: 281

Media contact:

(O) 717-671-1901

Who are We?

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.