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Why Pennsylvania Needs Paycheck Protection

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Paycheck protection is a simple, commonsense reform that prevents the use of taxpayer resources for the collection of union dues and political money. Two bills — HB 1507 and SB 1034 — are being discussed in Harrisburg that would protect government workers’ paychecks.

Pennsylvania law allows government union bosses to negotiate to have state and local government collect union dues and even campaign contributions and send them to union headquarters. In many cases, this deal is made with the same politicians who later receive campaign contributions and support funded by union political money.

While government union leaders argue their political spending will “protect the middle class,” the policies they support harm businesses, middle-class families, and even their own members.

Union dues fund a variety of political activities including lobbying, candidate endorsements, get-out-the-vote efforts, candidate and issue advocacy, television and radio ads, contributions to “independent” political and partisan organizations, and fundraising for campaign contributions.

Pennsylvania’s major government unions spent nearly $5 million of members’ dues on lobbying and political activities in 2012, according to their own reports to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Moreover, state and local governments collect union Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions via public payroll systems. Government union PACs contributed an additional $4 million directly to candidates during the 2011-12 elections.

How does government union political spending hurt your business?
Government union politicking blocked pension reform (resulting in higher taxes and teacher layoffs) and liquor store privatization — despite the overwhelming support of union members for liquor reform. Union-funded ad campaigns also held back school choice, keeping thousands of schoolchildren trapped in violent and failing schools.

Union-funded groups continue to push for higher taxes on businesses and taxing Marcellus Shale natural gas production. And government unions spent millions lobbying for ObamaCare, to the detriment of workers, taxpayers and entrepreneurs.

Lately, government union bosses, desperate to keep their exclusive political privilege, have been deliberately misrepresenting paycheck protection legislation and engaging in personal attacks as a distraction.

For starters, they claim that only a few outside interest groups support paycheck protection. In reality, nearly 80 percent of Pennsylvanians — including 75 percent of union members — believe taxpayer resources should not be used to collect union dues and campaign contributions, according to a recent poll of likely voters.

Government union leaders also claim that paycheck protection is actually “Right to Work” in disguise. The truth is paycheck protection doesn’t affect government unions’ ability to collectively bargain. Even if paycheck protection were to pass, government workers — like most public school teachers in the state — would still have to pay union dues or fees or lose their jobs.

So, what would change?
Government union leaders would simply have to collect their dues and campaign contributions directly from workers, rather than forcing taxpayers to do it for them. Either union bosses don’t understand the legislation, or they’re intentionally misleading their members and the public.

Another pernicious claim about paycheck protection is that it constitutes an attack on union members’ free speech. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paycheck protection does not stop government unions from spending money on politics; it merely removes taxpayers from the process of collecting their political money.

Paycheck protection would end a perverse system that requires business owners — and all taxpayers — to subsidize political activity and lobbying for causes that make it harder for them to succeed. Pennsylvania businesses, both large and small, face enormous challenges from the government in terms of taxation and regulation as it is; forcing job creators to also fund their own opposition is a cruel burden.

Lawmakers should be striving to create a level political playing field for all — not maintaining special exemptions for select political organizations at everyone else’s expense.

Bob Dick is a policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free market think tank. He graduated from Neumann University with a degree in political science and ultimately joined the staff of the Foundation full-time in March 2013. During his time at the Commonweath Foundation, he has worked on a number of issues including liquor privatization and education reform. To contact the Foundation, call 717/671-1901.