Pennsylvania Paycheck Protection Bill Distorted By Media, Unions

Given the sound and the fury at Pennsylvania’s Capitol Building over a proposed paycheck protection law, it is difficult to believe a bill that is less than two pages long can be so misunderstood by so many.

Longtime Philadelphia Daily News political columnist John Baer, in a Thursday commentary, called efforts to put the measure in play a charade to misdirect public and private union members by “ostensibly offer[ing] to help public-employee unions keep more of their pay.” Baer likely meant union members, rather than unions, but in either case he is totally incorrect.

If House Bill 1507 became law, union members would see a larger paycheck but would still be responsible for paying their union dues and “fair share” fees, in addition to sending contributions to the appropriate union political action committees they wish to support.

There is nothing in the bill threatening union operations or memberships. The unions may continue to run “closed shops” for public employment, where workers must pay dues or “fair share” fees to the unions as a condition of being employed.

Currently, state and local governments collect the dues and political contributions on behalf of the unions — private non-profit operations — and send the money along to the unions. Public union officials in Pennsylvania earn anywhere from four to 10 times the average salary of the workers they represent.

The public employee unions, of course, are upset they may wind up having to collect their own dues, rather than having state and local governments use their taxpayer-funded systems and employees do the collection for the unions for free.

And there is no denying there would be some expense to unions like the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), with 180,000 dues payers, to set up their own collection systems for their private operations. Additionally, unions like the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which collectively represent 60,000 to 65,000 state employees, would have to do the same.

Private sector unions, police, and firefighter unions are all exempted from the proposed law, but all showed up in force Tuesday as upwards of 1,000 unionists packed the state Capitol to protest.  The protestors claimed the paycheck protection measure would turn Pennsylvania into a Right to Work state, reduce union representation, or outlaw union membership altogether. The bill does none of those things. The legal obligations of union members for their dues and fair share fees to the unions would continue.

Interviews with several protestors at the rally indicated they had no idea what issue they were protesting or what is contained in HB1507. They said they did not want governments to collect their dues, which is what happens currently.

Baer, a popular columnist whose style ranges from snarky to hilarious in pointing out government and political foibles, wrote “So, look over there: Conservative Republicans are simply extending their well-documented empathy and compassion with and for working folks. You know, just as they do with regard to unemployment or minimum wage reform.”

After more sniping at the GOP, Baer concludes, “Reality can be a movable feast. The political reality here is that the troublesome GOP issues such as selling off state stores, getting school vouchers or cutting public pensions could be more easily tackled if not for the influence of pesky unions.”

In other words, if private unions have to collect their own dues and political contributions rather than using taxpayer funded personnel and systems to do so, they would cease to exist? Would the unions do a less effective job of representing their members if the state and local governments no longer did their financial and administrative services? The unions are multi-million-dollar operations at both the local and national levels, but need a taxpayer-funded collection agency?

Currently, former House Speakers Bill DeWeese (D) and John Perzel (R), along with former State Sen. Jane Orie (R) and a handful of other former state lawmakers and staffers, are sitting in prison for using public resources for political gain.

But using public resources to collect political contributions for public employee unions is acceptable? HB 1507’s prime sponsor, state Rep. Brian Cutler (R-Lancaster) says it is not and that is his primary reason for pushing the bill.

Those opposing the measure may want to read House Bill 1507 for themselves and learn the truth.