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Where do your union dues go? (2017-18)


1. The big picture

Based on the PSEA’s own financial reporting,[1] a bare 19 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 73 percent of the PSEA’s overall spending simply went to running the union: salaries; union employee health and retirement benefits; general overhead (including expenses such as building security guards); multiple union leadership conferences; and purchase of investments and fixed assets (the latter include land, buildings, and cars).

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. 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. However, union members should know that Janus changes nothing about how union dues are spent: they can still be used for political purposes.

In 2017-18, the PSEA spent over $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 2017-18;
  • $266,605 for the new internal PSEA account “Fund for Student Success,” which was approved by the union in July 2018, and is listed as a political expense;
  • $75,500 in political mailings and advocacy materials to members in 2017-18;
  • $50,000 in 2017-18 to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO as a contribution to the progressive CLEAR Coalition; and
  • $26,806 on “promotional items” for PACE, the separate political action committee of the union, that can raise direct contributions for political candidates.

All told, the PSEA has spent almost $23.2 million since 2010 of teachers’ dues money on “political activities and lobbying.” 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 $192 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 $61 million in 2017-18, 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 the progressive and partisan Democratic causes your NEA dues funded[2]:

  • A number of ballot measures leading up to the 2018 mid-term elections, including:
    • $500,000 to Clean Missouri in support of a constitutional amendment which passed and will change how electoral districts are drawn and limit campaign contributions, among other issues;
    • $250,000 to the Maryland Promise Committee in support of a constitutional amendment that passed and will dedicate revenue from video lotteries as supplementary education funding;
    • Over $1.4 million to the failed “Invest in Education” initiative, which the Arizona Supreme Court kicked off the ballot on Aug. 29. The measure proposed almost doubling state income tax rates on individuals earning at least $250,000 and couples earning at least $500,000 to raise revenue for public education.
  • $100,000 to the National Redistricting Action Fund, an affiliate of the National Redistricting Democratic Committee championed by former President Obama to help Democratic candidates win in several target states. The NRDC is headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder.
  • $347,833 in 2018 to America Votes, a progressive issues advocacy group that partners with other Big Labor groups and organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Democratic Governors Association, and the Human Rights Campaign.
  • $900,000 in 2017-18 to a group called America Works USA, which appears to be connected to the Democratic Governors Association. The organization bought Pennsylvania TV ads in 2017 touting Gov. Tom Wolf’s accomplishments. Its website contains no organizational information and its listed Washington DC address on the NEA’s financial report is the same as that of a Le Pain Quotidien café.
  • $250,000 in 2018 to the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
  • $300,000 in 2018 to the Center for Popular Democracy
  • $200,000 in 2017 to the For Our Future Action Fund.

4. Your dues rise every year

In 2017-18, the PSEA collected nearly $64 million in dues and “agency fees” (fees charged to non-union workers) from school employees. Since 2010, teachers’ dues, counting what they pay to the state and national unions, have increased 22 percent, and is now $724 in 2018-19. That figure does not count the varying dues several district locals may charge, which is often a token amount such as $30 a year.[3]

[1] Form LM-2 Labor Organization Annual Report, Pennsylvania State Education Association, U.S. Department of Labor File Number 512-989, 2018.

[2] Form LM-2 Labor Organization Annual Report, National Education Association, U.S. Department of Labor File Number 000-342, years 2017-2018.

[3] This was calculated using PSEA membership application forms, and PSEA and NEA LM-2 reports by year, which state annual dues.

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