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PA: How public unions divert taxpayer resources for political gain

While political partisanship divides us more and more, one thing we can agree on is the right to support who we want, when we want. No one can force us to give to a political organization or candidate we disagree with — right? Wrong. Many public school teachers are forced to support political organizations they strongly oppose — and taxpayers are paying to make it happen.

More than 120,000 teachers across the state can be forced to fund state and national teachers unions just to keep their jobs. And Pennsylvania law allows unions to fund their political activity via automatic dues collection — an exploitative system enabled by you, the taxpayer.

School districts, along with state government and municipalities, collect union dues, fees, and political action committee (PAC) money by deducting it from employees’ paychecks — just like taxes.

Rob Brough, a teacher in Ellwood City, reacted to being forced to fund the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the largest school employees’ union in the state, saying, “Their agenda and political ideals are counter to what I believe and it is a kick in the teeth every time my dues are withdrawn from my hard-earned paycheck and handed off to some organization that I would never contribute to of my own free will.”

While teachers, state workers, and other government employees can opt out of paying full union dues, incredibly, many are still required to pay “fair share” fees to unions just to keep their jobs. Rob and other teachers from across the commonwealth have joined together in protest and to make the public aware that taxpayers are helping to fund blatantly political activity.

Case in point, the PSEA reported spending $3.2 million of workers’ dues on political activity and lobbying last year alone, according to their own reporting. Their PAC donated an additional $2 million directly to candidates.

Robin Fought, who teaches in the Avon Grove School District, was shocked to discover a political funding system that has flown under the radar for decades: “To my surprise, our school district resources, as well as my tax money, are being used to deduct not only union dues, but political action committee funds for PSEA-PACE that go to candidates that I do not support.”

Polling conducted this summer shows nearly 80 percent of Pennsylvania voters agree that unions should not be able to use taxpayer resources to collect their members’ dues. Even 75 percent of union members supported requiring unions to collect their political money directly from members.

The PSEA is the largest of Pennsylvania’s government unions, but it’s far from the only one. An alphabet soup of public sector unions, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Service Employees International Union (SEIU); United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW); and the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers (PFT), combined spent another $1.6 million on lobbying last year, and an additional $2 million in PAC contributions.

You’ve probably seen some of these government union leaders’ political ads purchased with funds collected with taxpayer resources.

Earlier this year, UFCW Local 1776 spent more than $1 million on TV and radio ads fighting liquor privatization. The most ridiculous example, showing a young girl at her father’s funeral, claims privatization will result in more drunk driving deaths — a claim debunked and ridiculed by numerous sources, including the Philadelphia City Paper.

Union leaders representing government liquor store managers even lobbied against transportation funding to try to thwart liquor privatization this spring.

In the heat of the Philadelphia schools funding crisis, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers ran attack ads against Mayor Michael Nutter and Gov. Tom Corbett. The ads repeated inaccurate information about supposed education spending cuts. Union leaders haven’t said how much they spent on these ads, other than calling the investment “substantial.”

While workers certainly have the right to organize and join a union of their own free choice, no one should be forced to fund union political activity with which they disagree. What’s more, no taxpayer resources should be used to support partisan political activity.

It’s time to start letting Pennsylvania’s school teachers choose their own politics and regain control over their own paychecks. Ending the automatic collection of union dues will also protect taxpayers, who should not be footing the bill for government union leaders’ political agendas.

Nathan A. Benefield is director of policy analysis at the Commonwealth Foundation (Commonwealthfoundation.org), Pennsylvania’s free market think tank.

Nathan Benefield

Nathan A. Benefield is Vice President of Policy Analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives. Nate has researched and written on public policy issues including taxes, government spending, education reform, transportation funding, health care policy, and economic development.

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Categories: Education, Elections, Government Transparency, Labor / Unions, Must Read, News, Opinion, Policy, Politics, Regulation, Waste, Fraud and Abuse
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