Nathan Benefield: Government unions are outsized tyrants holding workers and taxpayers hostage


As we enter election season, it’s time to address the elephant in the room.

He’s an elephant with outsized influence on Pennsylvania politics – and few realize who holds the purse strings and the puppet strings behind the scenes.

Government trade union officials.

These union leaders enjoy a host of special privileges to maintain that influence – including the ability to pressure workers to join a union and pay dues, and taxpayer collection of their political funds.

Since 2007, Pennsylvania government unions have spent $70 million in political action committee (PAC) expenses and more than $96.5 million in dues for political activities and lobbying.

In Pennsylvania, the 2020 election cycle saw 91% of government union political donations go to Democrats. Governor Tom Wolf’s two campaigns have benefited from more than $11 million. Already in the 2022 cycle, those same government unions have given 85% of their donations to Democrats, with more than $2 million going to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s gubernatorial bid.

Do you see a trend?

In addition to these direct campaign contributions, Pennsylvania government union leaders use worker dues to fund independent candidate spending, lobbying expenses, and a host of progressive organizations.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the state’s largest government union, has spent more than $46 million in union dues on politics since 2007. The PSEA funds super PACs, including the State Engagement Fund and the PA Fund for Change, which run independent advertisements. attack the Republicans. Government unions also fund radical organizations, like Project 2043, which champions critical race theory and Color for Change PAC, which pushes to “defund the police” and backs district attorneys like Larry Krasner.

The web doesn’t stop there. Government union leaders sent workers’ dues to the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an organization led by Eric Holder that advocates partisan Democratic gerrymandering, and to progressive groups in Pennsylvania like PA Spotlight, Keystone Research Center and Commonwealth Communications.

Individuals have the right to donate to political organizations they believe in.

But government union leaders do not give workers a voice in the organizations or causes that receive their dues. They don’t care if an individual worker doesn’t want their money to fund progressive causes. And when individuals stand up to government union leaders and voice objections, the leaders shame the workers.

Cheri Gensel, a social studies teacher in the North Pocono School District, has been the victim of union bullying. In November 2021, before the House Labor and Industry Committee, Gensel testified on his experience. When Gensel resigned from the PSEA after the union went on strike in 2013, the union leadership responded by putting Gensel’s name on a “shame board” in his school’s staff room.

Another special privilege enjoyed by government union leaders – Pennsylvania taxpayers pay for the collection of government union dues and even direct campaign contributions. Most have no idea this is even happening.

Under current law, Pennsylvania state and local governments — including school districts — use public payroll systems to deduct union dues and PAC dues directly from workers’ paychecks and send that money to union leaders.

No other entity enjoys this political privilege – in fact, in all other circumstances, it is illegal to use public resources for politics.

Why do government unions have an exception? Politicians who benefit from union campaign contributions are forced to look the other way when it comes to those privileges.

It is high time our elected officials stood up to the government union leaders who are holding workers and taxpayers hostage. Lawmakers must ensure fairness, protect workers’ rights and reduce the immense influence of government unions on the policies of our Commonwealth.

House Bill 2048 would prohibit the use of taxpayers’ resources to collect political contributions. It is a step in the right direction which establishes a first barrier between taxpayers and government unions. HB 2042 ensure that all public sector employee unions inform their workers of their constitutional rights. In the same way, HB 2036 would allow public sector employees to resign from union membership at any time, for any reason.

Pennsylvania needs public sector union reforms that require government unions to adhere to the same levels of accountability as voluntary organizations. And taxpayers need to tell these union leaders and our legislators – we are watching.

Nathan Benefield is senior vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Nathan Benefield is Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Commonwealth Foundation.


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