Last month, I got a survey call on behalf of AFT-Pennsylvania. They started naming a bunch of individuals and organizations and then asking my impression of them.
There was only one group on the list I hadn’t heard of: The Commonwealth Foundation.
A quick perusal of the site brought me to an article title that I couldn’t resist: “Union Dues Exploit Teachers, Taxpayers.”
The crux of the first argument goes as follows:
“The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is a powerful teachers’ union that runs a highly partisan political machine. Each year, it forces tens of thousands of public school teachers to fund its brazen political agenda under the guise that it “represents teachers’ interests.””
I was surprised. I know that my own union (PFT) lets teachers opt in to both union dues and PAC contributions. These items appear separately on my paycheck — the PAC donation is set at a $1 per cycle, aka $26 a year.
It took me all of 30 seconds to find the PAC site for PSEA. It states quite clearly on their main page:
“No PSEA member dues dollars support PACE. PACE is a nonpartisan organization, funded by voluntary member contributions.”
Now, I’m no language expert — oh wait, yes I am. “Voluntary” does not mean “forced.” It is, in fact, listed by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as an antonym of “forced.”
Now, onto the second claim by the Commonwealth Foundation — that union dues exploit taxpayers:
“You and I pay for it. Government union contracts often require state and local governments to deduct union dues and Political Action Committee donations from employees’ paychecks using taxpayer-funded payroll systems.”
I struggle to find a metaphor that adequately reveals the ridiculousness of this claim. It’s like using a public highway, only we don’t cause any traffic. It’s like we’re using pipes to deliver water, only the pipes never erode. I can choose any number of voluntary deductions, including retirement funds and health care reserves, with no burden to the taxpayer. I have a right to opt into deductions that benefit me. Conservative forces may not like my politics, but that’s not grounds for making my financial choices illegal (and vice versa).
So what’s the purpose of this article? Why, it’s a laughably weak (but possibly still effective) attempt at drumming up public support for Pennsylvania House Bill 1507, which seeks to end the ability of all unions to deduct both PAC contributions and regular union dues from the paychecks of public employees. Firemen and policemen are notably exempted. (Presumably because they’ve got nightsticks and water cannons to fight back with, and I’ll I’ve got are some freshly sharpened pencils. Also this blog.)
Can unions be busted in Pennsylvania? It worked in Wisconsin. Legislation exactly like this eviscerated union membership there. Teachers had a small victory when a recent resolution asking County Commissioners to support the bill was taken off the table before they could vote. But the real threat, the house bill, is still out there. And the busters-at-large are going unchecked in Philadelphia media outlets. (At least western PA is publishing rebuttals.)
As an educator, I’m disappointed that the writers for the Commonwealth Foundation, who presumably graduated high school, could forget the writing lessons they learned from their teachers. Present the facts honestly. Don’t manipulate the truth.
As a union member, I am once again reminded that these forces are out there, and it’s not some secret conspiracy we don’t have access to. It’s right in front of our faces.
Tell everyone you know: the Commonwealth Foundation wants to destroy Pennsylvania unions.