Union democracy still a difficult task for workers in Pennsylvania

Union democracy still a difficult task for workers in Pennsylvania

Union democracy still a difficult task for workers in Pennsylvania

For all their claims of being worker-led, democratically run organizations, government unions in states like Pennsylvania seldom operate with the same level of accountability as do our elected officials.

And in the age of government-mandated shutdowns during COVID-19, that’s saying something.

Yet it’s true. Even as certain governors abuse their emergency powers in unprecedented – if not downright illegal – ways, we can at least take solace in the fact that term limits and regular elections provide a way for Americans to check their power at the ballot box every two or four years.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for most government unions.

Under current Pennsylvania state law, for example, government unions are never required to face re-election by the workers they represent. Many unions were certified so long ago that literally none of the currently represented employees ever cast a vote for them.

Without regular elections, removing or replacing an unwanted union is extremely difficult. In most cases, public employees in Pennsylvania are only granted a 30-day window once every two to four years during which they can file a petition calling for a “decertification” election. The difficulty of navigating the arduous decertification procedure ensures they do not happen often.

According to reports published by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB), only 117 petitions to remove or change unions were filed between 2010-2018, with even fewer elections held. Even so, the majority of those – 59 percent – resulted in a successful decertification.

While the statistics provided by PLRB are incomplete, the data indicate that smaller bargaining units at the city, county, and school district level are far more likely to pursue decertification than are larger ones. This is hardly surprising, both due to the mechanics of the process and the unaccountable nature of the top-heavy union model.

Take the Pennsylvania Education Association (PSEA), for example, where the vast majority of teachers’ dues are sent to the state and national chapters and spent on causes that have nothing to do with district-level workplace representation. Whether it’s spending $4 million on political activities or $11,800 to send union leaders to a baseball game in Texas, there’s no doubt PSEA’s sheer lack of accountability is a big reason why it has lost more than 7,000 members since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which banned mandatory membership and dues in the public workplace, went a long way toward advancing worker freedom, and the Freedom Foundation continues to equip government employees in Pennsylvania with the knowledge and tools needed to take the power back from corrupt union bosses.

Still, the nature of the union-employee relationship in Pennsylvania remains anything but democratic. The fact is, no American should be forced to accept a representative – in their workplace or otherwise – without the basic democratic safeguard of regular elections.

In the absence of such protections, public employees can learn more about how to change or remove their workplace representative by visiting www.OptOutToday.com/MyLocal or contacting the Freedom Foundation directly.

Research & Government Affairs Associate
Ben Straka serves as a Research and Government Affairs Associate for the Freedom Foundation, where his responsibilities include an array of policy research and reform efforts aimed at supporting the organization’s mission through legislative advocacy and public policy expertise. His work has been published in various local news outlets throughout the Pacific Northwest and the country, and he has appeared as a guest on radio programs such as The Lars Larson Show, among others. He has regularly testified before the Oregon State Legislature on matters of labor policy and government transparency, has advised local government leaders on labor relations, and has represented employees in administrative proceedings under the state’s collective bargaining laws. Ben first joined the Freedom Foundation in 2016, and holds additional professional experience in the fields of real estate development and construction. He is a native of Eugene, Ore. and a graduate of Corban University, where he studied political science and business. He lives in Oregon with his wife.