Report: Unions collected $9.7M from non-members
Pennsylvania is historically a union-dominated state, particularly in the areas that were once known for large-scale industrial operations. But in the 2016 presidential election, the state voted for a Republican candidate for the first time in decades.
Given these opposing trends, it’s no surprise that the Janus v. AFSCME forced union fees ruling in June has led to legislation from both sides of the aisle seeking to influence how the decision will affect public employee unions in the state.
At the same time, an analysis by the Commonwealth Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for free-market solutions to improving Pennsylvania’s governance and economy, has calculated how much the so-called “fair share fees” have been costing non-union members. Before the Janus case, public employee unions were able to compel public sector employees who were eligible to join a union but opted out to still pay a portion of the union fees. It was nonunion members’ “fair share” for receiving any benefits of collective bargaining.
“These ‘fair share fees’ were meant to cover the cost of collective bargaining, yet resulted in nonmembers paying hundreds of dollars annually for activities and politics they didn’t support,” Jessica Barnett, a policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation, told Watchdog.org. “While the 1977 Supreme Court case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, permitted fair share fees, states have their own laws governing collective bargaining practices.”
According to Barnett, the laws relating to forced union fees were invalidated by Janus.
“Pennsylvania law — notably the Public Employee Fair Share Fee Law and Public Employee Relations Act — allows unions to negotiate these fees into their contracts,” she said. “Janus overturned Abood, categorizing all union activities as political and thus fair share fees as unconstitutional, meaning these Pennsylvania laws now violate workers’ constitutional rights.”
The Commonwealth Foundation looked at data for six public employee unions in Pennsylvania and determined how many workers in each were compelled to pay the “fair share fee” and how much that fee was for each union. The analysis found that almost $9.7 million went to those unions in 2017 from about 28,000 workers who had elected not to join.
The largest share, more than $5.2 million, came from 14,911 workers who were paying an average of $350 annually to AFSCME. Another $2.7 million came from 6,380 teachers paying an average of $430 to the PSEA.
While Janus may cause some laws to no longer be in effect, the Legislature can still have a big impact on public employee unions. The same week as the Janus decision, state Reps. Maureen Madden, D-Tobyhanna, and Thomas Mehaffie, R-Hershey, announced their intention to introduce a bill called the “PA Workplace Freedom Act.” According to a memo to their House colleagues, the legislation will help workers “by strengthening the opportunity for them to form unions and stick together.”
“Instead of requiring a lengthy two-tiered election process, this bill would allow a simple card check where expressing majority support would be sufficient,” Madden and Mehaffie wrote. “Next, our legislation requires access to new employees to certified unions in order for them to explain the benefits of union membership.”
To Barnett, the Madden-Mehaffie bill would undo some of the positives she sees as a result of the Janus ruling.
“While Janus increased workplace freedom, the proposed Pa. Workplace Freedom Act would achieve the opposite goal, stripping workers of their rights to private and anonymous voting in union elections,” she said. “Without an election, union organizers can intimidate and harass workers — in their workplace and even at their homes — to publicly sign cards supporting unionization. If a union collects authorization cards from a simple majority of employees, it becomes the exclusive representative without an election.”
Another piece of pending legislation seeks to make Pennsylvania’s state workers aware of their rights as a result of Janus. Rep. Kate Klunk, RHanover, has introduced House Bill 2571, which she told colleagues has no impact on those who are active union members.
“My legislation deals strictly with the subject area of the Janus decision,” Klunk wrote. “It does not affect the ability of public sector unions to continue to collect union dues through payroll deduction for members of the union.”
The bill repeals laws related to forced union fees and requires the state to keep employees and job applicants well informed that they would not need to pay any fees to a union if they do not join.
Other potential legislation suggested by Barnett to strengthen the new rights resulting from Janus would be bills to allow workers to leave a union at any time — workers currently have a 15-day span each year to quit — and the right to hold regular votes on their union representation.
“Public sector union leaders directly impact government budgets by negotiating, behind closed doors, costly taxpayer-funded contracts with public officials — whom they often help elect,” she said. “Further, since 2007 Pennsylvania public sector unions have spent over $115 million in dues and PAC money lobbying against reforms that protect public resources and helping elect candidates who push for more government spending.”