The data affirms—government unions are among Pennsylvania’s most powerful political players.
From 2007-17, the commonwealth’s top government unions spent more than $114.8 million on politics.
Notably, about 40 percent represents political action committee (PAC) donations to political candidates. This level of PAC spending outpaces other interest groups like the natural gas industry. The remaining $67 million comes from membership dues. That's right, membership dues fuel the majority of government union political spending.
Annual dues—imposed upon these public sector workers as a condition of employment—come directly out of workers’ paychecks via taxpayer-funded payroll systems and fund union “political activities & lobbying.” This is money public sector unions legally spend on political ads, mailers, and communications to members, on behalf of candidates, and on contributions to special-interest organizations and SuperPACs. If workers do not join the union, they must still pay a reduced agency fee for collective bargaining activities, which frees more union money to be used on politics.
The true extent of union political spending is obscured. Union leaders may mislabel spending on their reports, fail to document their political spending, and/or delay reporting information. For example, several public unions have yet to submit reports from 2017.
In addition, union leaders deploy their political gifts with strict partisanship. For instance, Democrats dominate the top ten recipient list, on par with nationwide data. Most recently, the president of the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) claimed credit for helping elect Conor Lamb to Congress:
SEIU PA members endorsed Lamb in January, and hundreds of them knocked on tens of thousands of doors, made thousands of phone calls, and used texting and social media to connect with voters digitally.
On the eastern side of Pennsylvania, District 1199C, an AFSCME affiliate that represents hospital and health care workers, boasted of their campaign involvement. In discussing their attempts to elect new state representatives to the 24th and 26th districts, the executive vice president stated, “We’ll have staff, members, stewards, everyone working these campaigns.”
Unions have a right to political involvement—but not through their current unethical political privileges.
For decades, state and local government have used taxpayer resources to collect government union leaders' political money. Public resources should never fund politics, and paycheck protection reform would remove this glaring loophole that only government unions enjoy.
As union leaders spend millions on Pennsylvania politics, it's time they do so without abusing taxpayer resources.