Where Do Your Union Dues Go?
A LOOK AT TEACHERS UNION SPENDING IN PENNSYLVANIA, 2016-17
1. The big picture
Based on the PSEA’s own financial reporting, a bare 19.7 percent of the union’s spending went to the “representational activities” most directly related to labor representation, such as collective bargaining negotiations, handling grievances, and arbitration proceedings. Some 70 percent of the PSEA’s overall spending simply went to running the union: salaries, health and retirement benefits, general overhead (including expenses such as building security guards), and multiple union leadership conferences.
2. Dues money pays for politics
Using the PSEA’s own calculation, approximately 34 percent of each full-time teacher’s dues goes to political, ideological and similar activities NOT associated with the union’s direct representation of workers. How do we know this? By what the union charged in 2017-18 to “fair share fee” payers—those educators who decided not to join the union, but who still had to pay a portion of dues to their school district’s union.
The fair share fee was supposed to cover only negotiations on teacher contracts and work conditions (collective bargaining), grievance procedures, union governance meetings, legal efforts related to representing workers, and similar activities. By law, fee payers didn’t have to cover the PSEA’s political and ideological activities, as that would infringe on their freedom of association guaranteed in the First Amendment. So instead of paying the combined PSEA and NEA union dues of $712 in the 2017-18 school year, fee-paying teachers paid $468—about 34 percent less. Now, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 27, 2018 in Janus v. AFSCME, non-members across the nation are no longer required to pay agency fees to their teachers’ union.
In 2016-17, the PSEA spent nearly $2.9 million of your dues on “political activities and lobbying.” You may not have known this, but your member dues can be used for a variety of “soft” political activities, such as get-out-the-vote drives, election mailers, lobbying of legislators, and public marketing campaigns. So where did some of your PSEA dues go on politics? Recently, the PSEA spent:
- $1.6 million on union officer and employee compensation for their political and lobbying activities in 2016-17;
- $214,656 in political mailings to members during the fall of 2016;
- $28,000 in 2016 to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO as a contribution to the progressive CLEAR Coalition; and
- $14,000 to Gov. Tom Wolf’s inaugural committee in 2014-15.
The union also raised campaign contributions for state races separately through its political action committee, PACE, which has spent almost $9.8 million on candidates since 2010. Most school districts collect this political money directly from educators’ paychecks via payroll, at taxpayer expense.
3. Who is getting your dues money?
NEA member dues, now $189 a year for full-time teachers—and which every PSEA member must pay—supported a variety of political and ideological advocacy groups and causes around the country. Contributions to political advocacy organizations totaled at least $45 million in 2016-17, according to the NEA’s financial report, but millions more to such groups were also logged as “contributions, gifts and grants.” Here are just a few big-ticket examples of where your NEA dues went:
• Media Matters for America, which received a total of $400,000 in 2016 and 2017.
• The Center for Popular Democracy’s two 501(c)4 groups, which received $991,350 in 2015-2017. One of CPD Action’s campaigns is shaming “Corporate Backers of Hate” that so much as sit on President Trump’s Business Council.
• The For Our Future Action Fund, a national progressive community organization group, that received $5.3 million in 2016-17.
• LGBTQ advocacy group The Human Rights Campaign, which received $50,000 in 2016 in the form of a gift.
• Pro-abortion group Emily’s List, which received $10,000 in 2017.
4. Your dues rise every year
In 2016-17, the PSEA collected nearly $63 million in dues and “agency fees” (fees charged to non-union workers) from school employees. Since 2009, teachers’ dues, counting what they pay to the state and national unions, have increased 26 percent. Several union locals also charge additional dues.
 This was calculated using PSEA membership application forms, and PSEA and NEA LM-2 reports by year, which state annual dues.