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).

Gov. Wolf Authorizes New Union Money-Grab

MARCH 2, 2015

Pennsylvania's Government Unions

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order that effectively helps SEIU (Service Employees International Union) unionize home health care workers. Many of these workers are simply taking care of a family member or loved one, and have no connection to government employment.

This stealth unionization effort:

  • Allows SEIU or another union to organize Direct Care Workers.
  • Allows SEIU or another union to become the exclusive representative (monopoly) of home health care workers as the "Direct Care Worker Representative"
    • This election could be held with only 10 percent of home care workers signing up, far lower than the 30 percent threshold in the current labor law.
    • Moreover, the election of this exclusive representative would be conducted by the American Arbitration Association, not the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board which is the standard in all other cases.
  • Allows the Secretary of Human Services to negotiate with the "Direct Care Worker Representative" over compensation, procedures and voluntary payroll deductions.
  • The state would provide a list of all Direct Care Workers with their names and home addresses to help SEIU organize.

This executive order mirrors one attempted by Gov. Rendell in 2010. It was challenged in court by a coalition including the Pennsylvania Homecare Association and R.E.A.L. Home and Community-Based Services. After the Commonwealth Court issued an injunction, Gov. Rendell rescinded the order.

At the time, several care providers spoke out against the unilateral action:

"The Executive Order causes this one-on-one relationship to drastically change because a third party – a union – is being forced into it. This prevents me and other people with disabilities from fully taking control of our own lives"—Keith Williams, Community Organizer for the Northeast Pennsylvania Center for Independent Living (NEPA CIL) in Scranton

"We are very concerned that the names and addresses of consumer employers and their homecare attendants will be provided by the Commonwealth to unions for the purpose of recruiting membership."—William Kepner, Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Providers Coalition Association.

Similar efforts to quietly unionize home health care workers took place in Michigan and Illinois.

In Michigan, Robert and Patricia Haynes care for their adult children—Melissa, 34, and Kevin, 30—who suffer from hypertonic cerebral palsy. The Haynes family noticed some of the Medicaid dollars for their kids' care was being diverted to the coffers of the Service Employee International Union. The Haynes claimed they never voted to join a union. In fact, 80 percent of Michigan home health care workers did not vote in the election for union representation.

Over in Illinois, Pam Harris was disturbed by efforts to divert dollars from her son's care. Joshua has a rare genetic syndrome that causes severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. One Sunday morning in 2009 union representatives showed up unannounced at her home and asked her to join the SEIU. She declined, she wanted her checks to support Joshua’s care, not the union’s agenda.

Like the Haynes family and Pam Harris, many Pennsylvania families could soon see tax dollars skimmed from their needy family members to fund political candidates and election activity. Last election cycle, SEIU gave Tom Wolf nearly $1 million.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD, ELIZABETH STELLE | 05:31 PM | Comments

PA Union Campaign Contributions Exceed $10 Million

FEBRUARY 25, 2015

Pennsylvania government unions gave more than $10.5 million to candidates last election cycle. We updated our analysis of union political spending using the latest reports filed with the PA Department of State.

Total Pennsylvania Government Union PAC Spending for 2014 Election Cycle
Union 2013 2014 Total
Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA-PACE) $469,654 $2,711,333 $3,180,987
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) $115,309 $288,676 $403,985
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13 $541,093 $686,040 $1,227,133
AFSCME People $401,736 $1,123,506 $1,525,242
PA Service Employees International Union (SEIU)* $267,264 $2,144,011 $2,411,275
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 1776 $187,986 $206,944 $394,930
PA American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) $60,347 $93,715 $154,062
American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania (AFT-PA) $8,500 $33,300 $41,800
American Federation of Teachers (Washington, DC - National) $0 $1,057,315 $1,057,315
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT Pol Action Fund) $15,187 $56,438 $71,625
Total $2,067,075 $8,401,278 $10,468,353
*Includes political expenditures from PSSU Local SEIU 668 COPE Fund
Source: https://www.campaignfinanceonline.state.pa.us

Most of these campaign contributions were collected not by unions but with the help of you the taxpayer. State and local governments, along with school districts, deduct campaign contributions from the paychecks of employees, bundle it, and send the money onto union leaders.

Of course, this $10.5 million in direct campaign contributions is only the tip of the iceberg. Unions spend millions more each year on political activity from workers' dues—including contributions to SuperPACs, which run "independent" campaign ads supporting or attacking candidates.

Legislation ending the taxpayer collection of union political monies—known as paycheck protection or "Mary's Law"—is currently advancing through the state Senate.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 11:28 AM | Comments

Paycheck Protection Advances in the Senate

FEBRUARY 24, 2015

Teachers and government workers are one step closer to getting their voices back. Yesterday, members of the Senate State Government Committee passed a constitutional amendment version of paycheck protection. SB 500, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wagner, would end the use of taxpayer-funded resources to collect government union political money.

As a constitutional amendment, SB 500 requires passage in two consecutive legislative sessions and approval by voters. The bill is scheduled to be considered today by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The committee tabled discussion of SB 501, a statutory version of paycheck protection sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger.

These are critical first steps for reform in 2015, and we commend the bold champions in the House and Senate for making taxpayers their priority.

To learn more about paycheck protection and the need to give teachers like Mary a voice, check out our paycheck protection toolkit.

You can also send a message to your legislators in support of paycheck protection.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:36 PM | Comments

Committees Vote on Paycheck Protection, Liquor Privatization

FEBRUARY 23, 2015

Lawmakers took action in committees today on both liquor privatization and paycheck protection. Here's what's happened in Harrisburg:

Liquor privatization: This morning, the House Liquor Control Committee advanced HB 466, which would end the government monopoly on wine and liquor sales (wholesale and retail). This bill is sponsored by Speaker of the House Mike Turzai.

Paycheck protection: The Senate State Government Committee met today to discuss and vote on paycheck protection (SB 500, a constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Scott Wagner, and SB 501, sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger). Both would end the use of taxpayer resources to collect government union political money. SB 500 advanced from committee.

These are critical first steps for both reforms in 2015 and we praise the bold champions in the House and Senate for making taxpayers their priority.

Government unions are deploying their forces to keep their political privileges, so please join me now in voicing your support for the legislators standing up for taxpayers. Whether liquor privatization, paycheck protection, pension reform or spending limits—the time is now to set the agenda for 2015 and let Gov. Wolf know what taxpayers want the future of Pennsylvania to look like.

Click here to send your message on liquor privatization.

Then click here to send your message on paycheck protection.

posted by MATTHEW BROUILLETTE | 02:44 PM | Comments

No More Silent Treatment, Lehigh Commissioners Want Transparency

FEBRUARY 6, 2015

Government Transparency

Lehigh County commissioners are getting the silent treatment during labor contract negotiations, and they aren't happy about it

Reportedly, the current county executive, Tom Muller, refused leadership meetings with the commissioners chairman and vice-chairman, keeping silent on the progress of labor negotiations. How is this possible? In 1984, Lehigh County commissioners passed an ordinance directing the county executive to negotiate with county employee unions. Now, the comissioners are moving to take back responsibility for negotiation and bring more transparency to the process. 

Traditionally union negotiations throughout the state are anything but transparent. Taxpayers are left in the dark until a labor contract is approved.

At the state level, Gov. Tom Wolf will soon be negotiating with government union leaders over 16 expiring (or expired) contracts. These contracts cover almost 45,000 employees, with a total compensation of $3.37 billion. Given the enormous impact of these contracts on state spending and taxes, Gov. Wolf should fulfill his promise to give Pennsylvania a fresh start and ensure that these negotiations are as open and transparent as possible.

From Lehigh County to all of Pennsylvania, voters and taxpayers should have the opportunity to see contracts at every level of government before they are responsible for fulfilling them.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 03:46 PM | Comments

Teachers Denied the Right to Represent Themselves

FEBRUARY 5, 2015

Last week the Bethlehem Area School District approved a new labor contract that will force all teachers—even those who do not want the union's services—to pay the organization hundreds of dollars each year. Shortly after the vote, the Lehigh Valley Times editorial page argued that these so-called "fair share fees" are a good compromise. I responded with a letter arguing that teachers should have the freedom to decide who negotiates their salary.

The Jan. 30 editorial, "Fair share fees allow non-union teacher to have their cake and protest it, too," misses the fact that the Bethlehem Area Education Association's new obligation to represent non-union members such as Richard Coppock was not imposed on the union -- they actively negotiated for it. In other words, the district just allowed the union -- and its related state and national affiliates -- to confiscate Coppock's right to represent himself.

It's absurd that this power-grab is being twisted around to accuse Coppock of "free-riding." Coppock doesn't want something for nothing, he wants the ability to refuse all union benefits. Coppock's rights should not be sacrificed simply because he was in the minority.

The editorial goes on to say Coppock has the option to become a religious objector and, "donate the fee to a non-religious charity of their choosing." But the law actually says the charity must be "agreed upon by the nonmember and the [union]." The difference is more than semantics: Two Pennsylvania teachers are in the midst of lawsuit because the state teachers union has refused to allow their money to go to the non-religious charity of their choice.

Teachers must know their rights. FreetoTeach.org, a project of the Commonwealth Foundation where I work, offers clear and concise resources to let teachers make their own decisions -- a principle that the teachers' unions apparently ignore.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 09:05 AM | Comments

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

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