PSEA Blows Smoke Over Political Spending

School board members at the West Chester Area School District are negotiating a new contract with teachers, and rightly questioning why the district deducts union dues from teachers’ paychecks, when the money can go towards political spending. Board Vice-President Heidi Adsett wrote to the Daily Local:

…the school district’s practice of using public resources (payroll deduction) to collect and remit several hundred thousand dollars each year in union dues has come under scrutiny. This money gets used by the state (PSEA) and national (NEA) teacher unions for various political lobbying activities, and under a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case it can also be used for independent campaign expenditures.

Amazingly, the representative of West Chester Education Association (the local branch of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, or PSEA), flat out denied that union dues can go to politics:

“It’s completely illegal for that money to be used for lobbying or any political issue in the state or nationally,” Wollert said.  “The only thing that money is used for is to help teachers.”

Wollert’s statement is erroneous, as we’ve documented several times. Union dues, collected automatically like a tax, can go towards “political activities and lobbying,” purposes such as election mailers, get-out-the vote drives, independent campaign activities (as Ms. Adsett noted), public marketing campaigns, and lobbying of legislators.  In fact, in 2010-11, the PSEA spent a whopping $4.2 million of union members’ dues on these “soft” political activities, an increase of 60 percent from the previous year. 

So widespread is such political use of union dues money, the Wall Street Journal did a comprehensive report of all the political spending labor unions do, which showed that labor unions in America spent four times more than originally thought on politics. The PSEA even spent $21,000 on the recall election of Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin. 

Need I go on?  Union dues do fund all kinds of political activities in Pennsylvania, quite apart from the voluntary contributions teachers may make to PSEA’s political action committee, PACE. West Chester’s school board should be applauded for exposing that fact—and the school district’s teachers should take note of how their union spends their hard-earned cash.