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).

Too Close for Comfort: Gov. Wolf and SEIU

AUGUST 27, 2015

New documents obtained by the Commonwealth Foundation (publicized by the Post-Gazette in a recent story) show a frightening closeness between Gov. Wolf and union leaders, particularly leaders at the SEIU.

In 2014, Tom Wolf was the biggest recipient of union campaign contributions. Unions donated more than $3.4 million directly from union PACs—plus millions in additional support through union “independent expenditures”—to the Wolf campaign. SEIU led the way with more than $988,000 in contributions. It appears those donations are paying off.

Michael Brunelle, the former executive director of SEIU's PA State Council, is now special assistant to the governor and regularly collaborates with his former employer. Emails between Mr. Brunelle and union officials show the administration sharing news releases, talking points, and other documents before they are published.

Brunelle’s emails also show the administration working with SEIU, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, and the "Better Choices for PA Coalition" to coordinate press conferences in support of Gov. Wolf's tax proposals. Coincidentally, the coalition continues to blame Republicans for prolonging the budget stalemate and defend Gov. Wolf, despite his veto of all human services funding and his cancellation this week of budget negotiations.

The Wolf administration regularly discusses how many letters and calls SEIU, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), and others are making to lobby for Wolf's budget—and advises where to send those letters.

Most worrisome is the collusion over a controversial executive order.

SEIU officials helped draft an executive order that enabled SEIU and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees) to rapidly unionize tens of thousands of home health care workers—and deduct union dues from their paychecks. These dues can be spent on political activity and lobbying to push the governor's agenda. This executive order is currently being challenged in court.

As James noted in a post earlier today, Gov. Wolf's education agenda has clearly put PSEA and PFT (Philadelphia Federation of Teachers) leaders ahead of the needs of children.

Another indication of labor’s influence over the governor is David Fillman’s recent appointment as chairman of the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS). Fillman is the executive director of AFSCME’s Council 13, representing the largest group of state workers. AFSCME's refusal to support real pension reform may lead to Detroit-style pension benefit cuts.

Union leaders' influence with the Wolf administration shows why reforms like contract transparency during labor negotiations are needed.

How can a governor in lock step with state employee labor union expect taxpayers to trust him to negotiate contracts worth billions of dollars with his largest campaign contributors—behind closed doors?

Collaborating with political allies isn't a crime, but Gov. Wolf's record of supporting one special interest to the detriment of middle-class families, students, and home care workers should trouble anyone who believes our elected officials should serve the people, not union leaders. 

Commonwealth Foundation RTK

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:03 PM | Comments

Why Teachers Need a Bill of Rights

AUGUST 25, 2015

Mary loves teaching culinary arts, but she doesn’t want her name used in political mailers. Jane spent a career in the classroom, but she can’t donate the money she earned to her chosen scholarship fund. And Frank is a veteran teacher who wants to resign his union membership but can’t until 2017, after he is eligible for retirement.

Mary, Jane, and Frank are just a few of Pennsylvania’s teachers inspired by a passion to educate but, stymied by the union leaders charged with representing them. Now, they are speaking out in support of the Teacher’s Bill of Rights, presented by Free to Teach (FTT), a project of the Commonwealth Foundation.

FTT aims to enshrine a Teacher’s Bill of Rights into law to end the exploitation of Pennsylvania educators by the politically powerful. The list of rights includes:

  • The right to associate professionally as I choose, without being forced to contribute financially to any organization I do not support.
  • The right to be rewarded as a professional based on my job performance.
  • The right to protect my paycheck and not be forced to fund political views I oppose.
  • The right to have flexibility to meet the learning needs of students regardless of job action stipulations by the union.
  • The right to employment based on merit, not just years of experience.

Regrettably, these rights are only aspirations for most Pennsylvania teachers. Under the current system, many teachers are mistreated at the hands of their union. Here are a few examples:

  • Frank is trapped. Frank, a high school teacher in Lackawanna County and 28-year member of the National Education Association, disagrees with the political causes his dues support. When he learned of his right to resign union membership, he also learned his current contract prohibits him from leaving the union until June 2017, after he is eligible for retirement. “The union does not represent or even respect my deeply held convictions,” Frank says. “It forces me to violate them.”
  • Mary was exploited. Williamsport-area educator Mary Trometter was a member of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) for more than 20 years. She was shocked when her name was used—without her consent—in a political mailer the union sent to her husband asking him to “join Mary in voting for Tom Wolf for Governor.”

“I was so appalled by the content of this election letter, I ripped it in two before realizing that I should speak up about my experience,” Mary wrote. “Unions used to protect the little guy, like my great-grandfather. But they’ve become what we used to fight against. Now they’re the big bosses and ordinary union members are the little guy.”

  • Jane was rejected. As a religious objector to union membership in Chester County, Jane Ladley donated her “fair share fee,” otherwise “owed” to the teachers’ union, to charity. But the PSEA rejected her choice of a scholarship fund that was designed for high school seniors who displayed an interest in the U.S. Constitution. “They are telling me which groups I have to choose,” Jane said. “It’s a wrong that needs to be righted.”

Using teachers as political pawns and ignoring their will demonstrates a lack of respect for teachers and the students they teach. Once educators are no longer subject to the whims of unions, they will truly be free to teach.  

posted by GINA DIORIO | 00:30 PM | Comments

Transparency is the Antidote to Quid Pro Quo Politics

AUGUST 24, 2015

Government Transparency

Did Attorney General Kathleen Kane promise a sweetheart deal to union leaders in exchange for support of her controversial chief of staff? According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, enough evidence exists to warrant an FBI investigation into the matter:

In recent months, agents have questioned at least three people about several issues, including Kane's role in negotiating a new contract with the union representing narcotics agents in her office, according to people familiar with the matter.

The agents sought information about whether Kane suggested to union officials that she would look favorably on their contract if they supported her embattled chief of staff, sources said.

The investigation may end without any charges filed against Kathleen Kane. However, the fact that Kane and other high-ranking government officials—like Gov. Wolf—can promise favors under a veil of secrecy during contract negotiations should greatly concern Pennsylvanians.

Already this year, the Wolf administration ratified and signed a contract worth billions of dollars without public input. Likewise, school boards in eastern and western Pennsylvania have rushed into new deals without any public awareness

This is why collective bargaining transparency is essential.

Making the collective bargaining process transparent will let taxpayers demand better deals for their money. Politicians will no longer be able to negotiate in the shadows of closed-door offices. Instead, voters will have a window to peer into during deal-making.

posted by BOB DICK | 04:26 PM | Comments

Pension Reform to Protect my Kids

AUGUST 19, 2015

Legislative leaders have rightly rejected a so-called pension reform "compromise," a plan that fails to address the problems in our pension system and continues to put our kids and grandkids on the hook for our pension liabilities.

It's that burden on future generations that prompted Jim, a teacher in Lawrence County, to speak out.

Jim writes:

I chose teaching because I enjoy interacting with students and helping them learn. My science classes show students that certain actions yield predictable results. With this in mind, I am particularly concerned about Pennsylvania’s current retirement system for state employees, which includes public school teachers. 

Our pension system is underwater by more than $50 billion and, without change, will sink billions deeper. While this is bad news for educators, it’s downright frightening for parents and catastrophic for our Commonwealth.

My wife and I have five wonderful daughters. We’ve raised them to be responsible and self-sufficient. Only a hypocrite would ask them to deprive their children - my grandchildren - in order to pay for my retirement.

The truth is, pensions were originally offered with good intent: to retain quality state employees when higher pay was available in the private sector. Yet, according to 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of Pennsylvania state employees is higher than those of private sector employees. The original justification for defined pensions is now moot. 

The pension crisis is not another political soapbox issue. I know what it’s like to be faced with the unexpected. In 2008 when the economic downturn hit, I was working as a patent attorney and had my own pension plan. The high cost of this pension compelled me to terminate my own pension - I just couldn’t afford it. At the same time, a teaching opportunity arose that allowed me to continue providing for my family’s future.

The vast majority of private companies have realized the dangers of defined benefit pension plans and have switched to defined contribution plans, such as a 401(k). Unlike pensions, employees legally own the money in a 401(k) plan.  Investments move with the employee, can be accessed before retirement, can compensate for inflation, can be left to one’s children, and exist independently of any employer’s fiscal status.

We must fix our broken pension system. The future retirement of state employees should not be dictated by politicians, and the faulty formula will continue to produce abysmal results. Passing the costs of today’s broken system to our children is morally unacceptable.

posted by COMMONWEALTH FOUNDATION | 10:32 AM | Comments

New Contract, Still no Transparency

AUGUST 14, 2015

PA State Union Contracts

The newest state contract with AFSCME—the union representing more than 30,000 state workers—was signed earlier this week.

The contract was agreed to in April, then ratified by union members in May. This new deal (along with a much smaller UFCW contract) will cost taxpayers a reported $23 million in new costs annually.

Yet citizens still cannot get copies of this contract online.

It is now 115 days since the first report of an agreement, and 87 days since union members voted on the deal.

So why aren’t the contracts being shared with taxpayers?

Because the new agreement is only for one year, Gov. Wolf and AFSCME leaders—who contributed more than $1.2 million to Wolf’s campaign—will continue negotiations on yet another deal. The negotiations will occur behind closed doors.

Thankfully, legislation that would shed a light on this process—and give taxpayers an estimate of the cost of union contracts before they are signed—sits before the state House now. It is critical that Pennsylvanians have more transparency in these secret union deals.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 02:47 PM | Comments

Union Politicking Shows Need for Mary's Law

AUGUST 4, 2015

Political mailers supporting candidates are par for the course during elections—unless those mailers are sent by government unions and funded with members’ dues. Then, they’re illegal.

But that didn’t stop the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) from sending them—or the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board from punting on its authority to enforce the law.

Last fall, Assistant Professor and PSEA member Mary Trometter opened a letter from the PSEA addressed to her husband, asking him to “join Mary in voting for Tom Wolf for Governor on November 4.” 

Appalled not only at the partisan mailer but that her name was used—without her permission—to endorse Wolf, Mary decided to hold the union accountable. She and The Fairness Center filed a charge with the PLRB. Recently, though, the PLRB announced its function was not to enforce the law and sent the case to Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office for enforcement.

The question isn’t whether PSEA used members’ dues for politicking—they admitted to this. The question is whether those charged with enforcing the law will turn a blind eye and continue to let the union exploit members for political gain.

Mary plans to appeal the PLRB’s decision and is also calling on AG Kane to enforce the law.

Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would also protect teachers like Mary from being used as ATMs to fund union campaigning. “Mary’s Law,” also known as paycheck protection, would require union leaders to go directly to members to collect money for politicking, instead of relying on taxpayer-funded collections to advance the union’s political agenda.

It’s indefensible that the PSEA thinks it can take Mary’s dues money and hijack her name for political gain.

You can stand with Mary by urging your lawmakers to support Mary’s Law

posted by GINA DIORIO | 02:40 PM | Comments

The Law Should Not Condone Violence

JULY 21, 2015

Yesterday, Ironworkers Local 401 union leader Joseph Dougherty was given a 19 year prison sentence for encouraging sabotage and intimidation to advance his union’s interests.

The judge in the case offered a scathing rebuke of Dougherty and an indictment of tolerance for union violence in Pennsylvania:

Comparing Dougherty to Lady Macbeth, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson chastised the 73-year-old business manager for acting behind the scenes and relying on "an army of ironworkers" to commit crimes for him.

"That's the real tragedy of this case," Baylson said. "His leadership led to a lot of damage. It led to a lot of crimes. It continued the bad reputation Philadelphia has for tolerating union violence."

Incredibly, other union leaders continue to support Dougherty. Anyone reading the facts of this case should be appalled, not celebrating or supporting Dougherty with rallies.

Speaking to his union subordinates, Dougherty repeatedly referred to nonunion contractors as "subhuman" and "pigs."

"You should be able to do whatever you want to them, and it should be legal," he said on one recording. "There shouldn't be a crime."

Still, argued Dougherty lawyer Mark Cedrone, there was no proof that his client ordered - or even knew about - many of the attacks union members carried out on construction sites across the region.

That list included some of the most high-profile incidents in the city's recent history, such as the 2012 arson of a Quaker meetinghouse in Chestnut Hill, the baseball-bat beatings of nonunion workers outside a King of Prussia Toys R Us in 2010, and an all-out brawl in 2013 between ironworkers and members of the Carpenters union. …

Members rose through the ranks by participating in goon squads that struck back at contractors who refused to hire their union ironworkers. One group openly referred to itself as "the Helpful Union Guys" - "T.H.U.G.S." for short.

While Dougherty may not have participated in or ordered all of attacks, Livermore said, he rewarded his union's saboteurs with plum job assignments and his support for elected union posts.

The violence and sabotage are an all too real part of labor disputes in Pennsylvania. And yet, inexplicably, Pennsylvania law carves out exemptions for hostile and aggressive behavior if the behavior occurs during the midst of a labor dispute.

That’s not a typo. While state law rightly criminalizes harassment, stalking, and threats involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD), “a party to a labor dispute”—including labor union leaders—are exempt. There is no plausible justification for tolerating stalking, harassment, or threating to use WMDs on another person.

Readers may think this is just some crazy, archaic law we never fixed—like laws preventing carrying an ice cream cone in your back pocket. Reality paints a different picture. The exemptions were created relatively recently, and they have been used to excuse union violence.

Take the case of Sarina Rose who, along with her young children, suffered harassment and was threatened by union members. Yet, a judge dismissed the case, citing the exemptions in the law, essentially saying this kind of behavior is to be expected when dealing with unions.   

It’s pretty clear we need to get serious about ending a culture that accepts violence or threats of violence as just the cost of doing business.  

It starts by passing HB 874, which moved out of the state House in April. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ron Marsico, ends the ability of labor disputants to stalk, harass, and threaten with impunity.

The bill currently sits on the Senate floor, awaiting action. 

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 10:18 AM | Comments

Gov. Wolf Does Understand Economics

JULY 6, 2015

Last Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed legislation passed by the general assembly that would allow private retailers to sell wine and liquor. As my colleague Bob pointed out, his reasons don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Others have noted the inconsistencies and lack of rational thought in Gov. Wolf's veto message. Jacob Sullum, writing for Reason, points out

The prediction of higher prices is not only inconsistent with basic economic principles and the experiences of the three dozen or so states that already have private liquor sales. It is also inconsistent with another major argument used by opponents of privatization, who say abolishing the state monopoly will lead to more drinking and more alcohol abuse.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board contrasts Wolf’s claim with the experience in neighboring states, where most Pennsylvanians actually shop for lower prices and better selection

But in written remarks Thursday, the governor claimed the bill made "bad business sense," saying it would mean "selling an asset and risking higher prices and less selection for consumers." Apparently, he's never had the far-better experience of buying a bottle of wine to go with dinner ingredients or the vast selection of adult beverages that is available across the state’s borders in New York, Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey and Maryland.

Jonathan Adler, writing on the Volokh Conspiracy blog of the Washington Post, makes a mockery of Wolf’s veto message.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf vetoed the legislation, claiming allowing private wine and liquor sales would lead to "higher prices and less selection" for consumers. No, really. That was the explanation.

Adler, with his title, suggests Wolf doesn’t understand economics, or at least has other reasons.

To be clear, Gov. Wolf absolutely understands economics, and knows that a market-based system will result in lower prices and greater selection.

And Gov. Wolf certainly understands that "modernization" proposals, which literally call for government increasing the price of wine and liquor, will result in higher prices.

No, Gov. Wolf is simply parroting the rhetoric of government union leaders who gave $3.4 million to his campaign and now are demanding political return.

Of course, Gov. Wolf can't say in a veto message that he's beholden to union leadership and trying to raise money for a new PAC, so he pretends he doesn't understand economics and has never bought alcohol in another state.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 00:39 PM | Comments

Pivotal Pension Reform Passes to Wolf

JULY 1, 2015

Yesterday, the General Assembly passed landmark legislation to free homeowners from skyrocketing property taxes, make school budgets go further, and protect public employees from politics.

SB 1 bill reforms the pension system by placing new state employees and school teachers in a defined-contribution retirement plan, similar to a 401(k). The bill passed the House of Representatives 106 to 89 and the Senate concurred with a 29 to 20 vote.

Please take a minute to thank your lawmakers for working to get politics out of pensions.

For years, public servants' retirement benefits have been at the mercy of political whims, with past legislatures making empty promises. Pension underfunding, along with market downswings, have left taxpayers with a $53 billion pension liability and skyrocketing local property taxes (an extra $600 per homeowner since 2008-09).

SB 1 not only stops the bleeding, but also benefits public employees by giving them stability, portability, and protection from political manipulation through a defined-contribution plan. The bill also provides employees with a cash-balance plan, adjusts the calculation of lump sum withdrawals to make them revenue neutral, and reduces "pension spiking" practices. SB 1 also puts lawmakers in the same defined-contribution plan as new employees, once they are re-elected.

The bill would save about $11 billion over the long-term.

Meanwhile, Governor Wolf continues to insist we do not have a pension crisis. A veto would be a huge blow to the commonwealth, paving the way for future credit downgrades, education cuts, and tax hikes.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 03:45 PM | Comments

Contract Transparency Still Critical

JUNE 29, 2015

PA State Union Contracts

Harrisburg is abuzz as the budget battle continues. With high profile legislation on liquor privatization, pension and education reform receiving much attention, it's easy to lose sight of a fundamental issue: contract transparency.

Contract transparency is critical to giving taxpayers influence over a process often captured by special interests.

Here is a short summary of the two transparency bills aimed at improving the collective bargaining process:

  • SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, empowers the Independent Fiscal Office to provide the public with cost estimates on state public sector union contracts prior to ratification.
  • SB 645, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano, requires public sector collective bargaining agreements to be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks prior to signing.

By making union contracts and their costs available to the public before they are implemented, taxpayers will have a chance to offer their input on the terms of the deals. If they feel the terms are unfair, they can demand changes to the contracts.

The current collective bargaining process provides no such recourse. As my colleague Nate pointed out last week, new union contracts were ratified more than a month ago, but we still aren’t privy to the contracts' terms. However, thanks to a story from Capitolwire, we do know the contracts will make government more expensive.

In writing about the budget process, Chris Comisac details why a few appropriations bills needed to be amended (paywall):

During the meeting, House Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, noted some of the bills have been amended with larger appropriation amounts. Markosek explained those increased figures – which have been agreed to by legislative leaders – represent the additional costs associated with the new collective bargaining agreements (emphasis mine) reached by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and the various state employee labor unions.

The new union contracts negotiated by the Wolf Administration—with some of his largest campaign contributors—will increase the cost of government by millions of dollars. This is the result of a process played out entirely in secret. No debate. No accountability. No transparency.

As Gov. Wolf likes to say, the status quo is unacceptable. Let’s upend it.

posted by BOB DICK | 02:16 PM | Comments

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