Too Close for Comfort: Gov. Wolf and SEIU

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