HARRISBURG, Pa. – The influence of Pennsylvania’s government employee unions is substantial, and it isn’t necessarily in its members’ best interests.
A recent report by the Commonwealth Foundation illustrates how the state’s teachers unions and other public employee unions amass millions of dollars through mandatory dues deductions, and how the unions spent much of the money on political causes their members may or may not support.
“In 2012, Pennsylvania’s primary government unions spent more than $4.9 million from union dues on political activities and lobbying, a 64% increase from 2006,” according to Commonwealth research. “The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is Pennsylvania’s largest government union. It boasts 190,967 members and brought in more than $100 million in revenue last year. The union spent $3.2 million of its members’ dues on political activities and lobbying.”
Commonwealth explains that a lot of PSEA dues money that isn’t spent directly on politics is often sent to advocacy organizations that support the union perspective, following the example of its parent union – the National Education Association.
The American Federation of Teachers also represents Pennsylvania teachers in urban districts like Philadelphia, and also spends heavily on politics and union advocacy.
Last year, the PSEA sent over $100,000 to advocacy groups like the Coalition for Labor Engagement and Accountable Reviews ($50,000), which lobbies for higher taxes and spending, the retention of the state government’s liquor monopoly and against pension reform.
The PSEA also sent $54,500 to the Keystone Research Center, a “progressive think thank” that churns out research favorable to Big Labor.
The NEA spent $15 million on advocacy groups in 2011-12, and the AFT donated $6 million, with much of the money collected via taxpayer-financed payroll systems through mandatory dues deductions or “fair share” fees, Commonwealth reports.
The Pittsburg Tribune-Review issued an editorial pointing to the Commonwealth findings, and how union spending conflicts with the will of union members and taxpayers. The United Food and Commercial Workers union, for instance, spent $1 million in advertising to campaign against liquor privatization, and ultimately got its way, the Tribune-Review opined.
“Among some of the big-ticket items was $1 million reportedly spent in advertising against liquor privatization by the United Food and Commercial Workers. And, rest assured, the ‘message’ was received: The Legislature, despite GOP majorities in the House and Senate, has stalled and otherwise diluted bills for full liquor privatization,” said to the Tribune-Review editorial.
“This, when survey after survey shows Pennsylvanians want privatization of the state’s Prohibition-era liquor monopoly.
“No citizen, regardless of union membership, should be forced to subsidize any cause. Nor should the state be an accomplice to this union thuggery by using public resources to collect dues,” the newspaper opined.
“From this unrelenting nightmare, the state legislature must awake and end unions’ stranglehold.”
The same can certainly be said for the PSEA’s influence on education policy in Pennsylvania. It’s a similar situation in virtually every state.
Education policies must be focused on student needs and public demands, not the outsized influence of organized labor groups.
The Commonwealth Foundation suggests the easiest way to set things straight is for lawmakers to end automatic dues deductions through the public payroll system, and allow teachers and other public employees the freedom to choose whether or not they want to support the unions.
Only then will the unions truly be accountable to their members.
By Victor Skinner at EAGnews.org