Paycheck protection legislation took another step forward in Pennsylvania this week when the House State Government Committee voted to block public-sector labor unions from using employee dues to fund political activities.
Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, said using union dues for political purposes is “an injustice.”
The committee joins the state Senate and most Pennsylvanians in supporting paycheck protection. The measure now goes to the full House, though it was not immediately known when the chamber will take up the bill. Any bill that emerges from the legislature faces a potential veto from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
“It protects members from being forced through the union to fund political candidates or causes they don’t support,” said the bill’s original sponsor, state Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair.
The issue is also being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court heard arguments last week in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that aims to overturn the 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which endorsed the collection of “agency fees” by public-sector unions from non-union members.
Agency fees are supposed to support collective bargaining costs and have been mandatory, even for public employees who choose not to join a union. However, many teachers have opposed those fees and do not want to give any money to unions that support political agendas they don’t agree with.
“Government union leaders have long relied on taxpayer-funded payroll systems to collect union dues earmarked for politics and even direct campaign contributions,” said Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank that supports paycheck protection. “This creates a conflict of interest for those on the receiving end of government union funds and makes taxpayers an unwilling third party to partisan politics. We can all agree that public resources should not be used for private, political purposes.”
In Pennsylvania, for example, the union-backed America Works USA spent more than $1.1 million last year on political ads financed by union dues. The National Education Association, the parent union of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, contributed $1 million to America Works, and the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, contributed almost $1.5 million to the Democratic Governors Association.
“If elected officials use public resources for politics, it’s a crime,” Brouillette said. “The same should be true for government unions. No Pennsylvanian should be forced to fund someone else’s politics.”
Democratic lawmakers and Pennsylvania unions have argued that paycheck protection unfairly targets unions, citing automatic paycheck deduction for things such as insurance.
Paycheck protection previously stalled in Harrisburg in 2014 when a version limited only to school districts failed in the Senate. Wolf opposes the measure and could veto it once it hits his desk. An override would be unlikely.
Supporters are also considering an amendment to the state constitution, which could take two years or more but would bypass the governor, who has no role in the amendment process.