Empowering Public Employees

The laws governing Pennsylvania’s labor unions are fraught with problems. They confer numerous privileges to unions—government unions in particular—at the expense of public employees and taxpayers. This isn’t how our system should work. A prerequisite for a fair legal system is equality for all, not special benefits for a few. 

While Gov. Wolf doesn’t have the power to unilaterally change our commonwealth’s laws, he does have an opportunity to make inroads in creating a fairer Pennsylvania by ending some of the most coercive provisions found in collective bargaining agreements, many of which are set to expire this June. Below are three reforms the governor could adopt to empower public employees and protect taxpayers from subsidizing politics.

  • End the taxpayer collection of political money. Government unions are afforded the political privilege of using taxpayer resources to collect their political money. This effectively forces Pennsylvanians to subsidize the political agenda of government unions. By negotiating this provision out of union contracts, Gov. Wolf would not only give public employees the ability to hold their unions more accountable, but he would end his own troubling conflict of interest. (Legislation to end this practice has already been introduced.)
  • Remove union resignation restrictions. Pennsylvania law is rather draconian when it comes to giving public employees the option to leave their union. The Public Employee Relations Act restricts the ability of an employee to resign from a union, only providing a short 15-day window before the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement to do so. This is known as “maintenance of membership.” Theoretically, a union could agree to a new contract with a public employer before the resignation window is ever reached, essentially trapping public employees in a union. 
  • Allow public employees to choose how they pay their union. Under Pennsylvania law, public employees are required to either join a union or pay a fair share fee as a condition of employment. If public employees wish to opt out of their union, the fair share fee is automatically deducted from their paycheck, denying them the choice of when or how to pay. If this provision were removed, it would give public employees another tool to hold their union accountable for its decisions. Under the current system, the union has no incentive to consider the wishes of employees because it receives payment regardless of performance.

By adopting these three ideas, Gov. Wolf could dramatically improve a system that puts government unions before the rights and concerns of public employees and taxpayers.