Pennsylvania law allows government-union bosses â€“ and only government-union bosses â€“ to negotiate the use of public resources to bundle union dues and political money and send it to union headquarters. In many cases, this dubious deal is made with politicians who receive contributions and campaign support funded by the same political money.
Paycheck protection would end this flagrant conflict of interest and level the political playing field for all.
Given their lucrative arrangement, itâ€™s no surprise government-union leaders donâ€™t want to play by the same rules as everyone else. Theyâ€™ve launched a misinformation campaign to confuse the public and their own members about the details of paycheck protection.
For starters, they claim only a few outside interest groups support paycheck protection. In reality, nearly 80% of Pennsylvanians, including 75% of union members, believe taxpayer resources should not be used to collect union dues and campaign contributions, according to a recent poll of likely voters.
Government-union leaders also claim that paycheck protection is actually â€œRight to Workâ€ in disguise. The truth is paycheck protection doesnâ€™t affect government unionsâ€™ ability to collectively bargain. Even if paycheck protection were to pass, government workers â€“ like most public-school teachers in the state â€“ would still have to pay union dues or fees or lose their jobs.
So, what would change? Government-union leaders would simply have to collect their dues and campaign contributions directly from workers, rather than forcing taxpayers to do it for them. Either union bosses donâ€™t understand the legislation, or theyâ€™re intentionally misleading their members and the public.
Another pernicious claim about paycheck protection is that it constitutes an attack on union membersâ€™ free speech. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paycheck protection does not stop government unions from spending money on politics; it merely removes taxpayers from the process of collecting their political money.
The US Supreme Court agrees that paycheck protection supports, rather than violates, freedom of speech. In 2009, the court ruled in Ysursa v. Pocatello that Idahoâ€™s paycheck-protection law, which ended taxpayer collection of political money, â€œdoes not restrict political speech, but rather declines to promote that speech by allowing public-employee check-offs for political activities.â€
Indeed, requiring union leaders to collect their own political money would actually make them more responsive to membersâ€™ free-speech rights.
Perhaps government-union bossesâ€™ greatest trick is claiming dues cannot be used for politics. In reality, union dues fund a variety of political activities, including lobbying, candidate endorsements, get-out-the-vote efforts, candidate and issue advocacy, contributions to â€œindependentâ€ political and partisan organizations, and fundraising for campaign contributions.
Pennsylvaniaâ€™s major government unions spent nearly $5 million of membersâ€™ dues on lobbying and political activities in 2012 â€“ thatâ€™s according to their own reports to the US Dept. of Labor.
Moreover, union Political Action Committee contributions are also collected via public payroll systems. Government union PACs contributed an additional $4 million directly to candidates during the 2011-12 elections.
This perverse power cycle allows elected officials to sign checks giving money to union PACs and later accept campaign contributions from that same PAC!
Former House Speaker John Perzel was recently released from prison after being convicted of using public resources for politics. And current State Sen. LeAnna Washington faces prison time for allegedly using taxpayer-paid staff at a campaign fundraiser. Why do we allow government union leaders to engage in essentially the same behavior without batting an eye?
The debate over paycheck protection must be informed by facts, not half-truths or conspiracy theories from those clinging to their government-granted political privilege. Hereâ€™s the bottom line: Public resources should never be used for partisan politics.
Dick, a Philadelphia native, is a policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvaniaâ€™s freemarket think-tank.