Union reform sought
Taxpayers should be out of the equation regarding government union dues and political funding.
That was the message Dawn Meling, director of community relations for the Commonwealth Foundation, brought at Monday’s Williamsport Lycoming County Council of Republican Women’s meeting at the Genetti Hotel.
State law grants government unions the ability to negotiate contracts that require using taxpayer resources to collect union dues, fees and political action contributions. Unions collect the money through automatic withholdings from public employee paychecks, rather than directly collecting it from members, Meling said.
Because Pennsylvania is one of the 26 “forced-union states” in the nation, government employees who don’t want to join a union can be forced to forfeit a portion of their paychecks – as a condition of employment, she said.
More than 20,000 government workers in the state who choose not to join a union are required to pay this “fair-share fee,” according to the foundation.
Unions use dues for independent political expenditures, mailers about candidates, election efforts and lobbying of legislators, Meling said.
During the 2005-12 election cycles, government unions in the state spent $50 million, which resulted in $4 per resident in higher taxes, she said. In comparison, unions in Texas spent $12.5 million during that time period.
Meling detailed how the special interests apparently “work against taxpayers” and tie into the current main issues in Harrisburg.
“There’s a $47 billion hole in Pennsylvania, called unfunded liability” in the State Employees’ Retirement System and Public School Employees’ Retirement System, she said. The current legislative plan in place will take 30 years of payment, which will cost taxpayers $1,000 over the next four years in state and local taxes, she said.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan, however, would put only new employees into 401(k)-type plans, while current employees would retain their accrued benefits without changes, Meling said.
“When you’re in a sinking ship … first, plug the hole before you get the water out – that’s (Corbett’s plan) plugging the hole,” Meling said.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and others apparently use dues to lobby against pension reforms, Meling said.
Taxpayers money is used when government employees at school districts are doing the work to pay the unions, she said.
Past legislation did contribute to the pension crisis, as well, she said.
Meling said her health-insurance company recently gave her notice she would be dropped from the plan.
“This (Affordable Care Act) policy affects real people,” she said. “It has created more than 20 new taxes, and expands the welfare state.”
Corbett’s health care plan, Healthy Pennsylvania, would use federal Medicaid expansion money under the Affordable Care Act, not for Medicaid, but to create a separate entitlement program for private insurance for state residents, she said, contingent upon the federal government’s approval of that use.
The Service Employees International Union and the National Education Association used dues and political money to lobby for the Affordable Care Act and special exemptions for unions, Meling said.
The foundation finds issue with the government simultaneously endorsing alcohol while enforcing alcohol-related crimes, she said.
“Our system is antiquated,” she said, emphasizing government’s focus should be on its core functions, not alcohol.
If the government sold the liquor system, it would gain about $1 billion to go toward education.
City Councilman N. Clifford “Skip” Smith asked if and once it’s sold, how will the state make up the millions of dollars lost revenue. Meling answered 80 percent of revenue is from taxes, which would be collected from private businesses who would sell the liquor. She believes if the government got out of that business, demand and competition would offer good prices and more diverse options and create more jobs, therefore making up that 20-percent gap.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union spent $1 million to lobby and run television advertisements against ending the government-run liquor system, she said.
The state needs to look at how it already is spending transportation money before more is designated, Meling said, as Pennsylvania is one of the highest states in the nation for spending the highest amount per mile.
One key aspect is to reform prevailing wage, she said. A good amount of transportation spending goes toward road and construction projects. On government projects, prevailing wage rates apply and the threshold of $25,000 hasn’t changed since the early 1960s, she said.
“We’re paying union-inflated wages,” she said, and it cuts down on competition. “We’re paying extra money for the same type of work.”
The Pennsylvania State Education Association and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers use money to support school board candidates, Meling said, and then negotiate contracts with school board members. This can, in turn, lead to greater school district spending, she said. As property taxes contribute to school districts, property taxes also increase, she said.
On a small, individualized scale, school districts can negotiate contracts with unions so automatic “fair-share fees” aren’t taken out of employees’ paychecks, Meling said.
To address the issues on a statewide scale, “paycheck protection” legislation could be rolled out to ensure unions don’t spend member dues on political activities without a member’s consent, and further, to require unions to collect their own dues, rather than placing the burden on taxpayer-financed government payroll systems, she said, and union support should be voluntary.
At least eight other states have passed similar legislation.
“Our government unions are a political giant, and are often working against the interests of its own members,” Meling said.
The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank and crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty, according to its website commonwealthfoundation.org.