Measuring Teacher Union Power

Take the fifty states and the District of Columbia and measure the strength of their teachers’ union based on resources, political activity, state policies, and the perceived influence of power. That’s what a recent report by the Thomas Fordham Institute attempts to do. One of the key areas they focus on is collective bargaining: what is the legal treatment in the state? Are strikes legal? And can the union automatically deduct dues and collect agency fees from non-members?

With mandatory collective bargaining, no prohibition on teacher strikes, and permission to withhold and collect dues and fees, the Keystone state gets a ranking of fourth most powerful teachers’ union in the report. It was bested by Hawaii, Oregon, and Montana.

In the top ten strongest states, all have mandatory collective bargaining and all permit automatic dues deductions or agency fee collections. Two states-New York and New Jersey-prohibit teacher strikes and one, Washington, neither permits nor prohibits them.

Now look at the states ranked at the bottom (having the unions with the least amount of power). One state, Oklahoma, permits collective bargaining; in Florida it is mandatory, and in Arizona and Mississippi it is neither permitted nor prohibited. Only Louisiana permits strikes and South Carolina is silent on the issue. States in this group where collective bargaining is prohibited (Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Arkansas, and South Carolina) also prohibit any type of dues deduction or fee collection.

Municipal Conflict?

As noted in today’s Brief the recent Supreme Court decision that says an arbitration settlement is quite different from an arbitration award and what that means for Act 47 recovery plans was an 8-1 decision. What were some of the arguments raised in the dissenting opinion? There were several, but much of it boiled down to this: granting an exception to arbitration awards under Act 47 would basically place police and fire personnel (who have binding arbitration under Act 111) in a class separate from other non-uniformed personnel in an Act 47 community.

For instances, the opinion noted "Act 47 addresses circumstances of financial distress. I am not convinced the General Assembly intended to charge elected officials with these difficult tasks, while simultaneously permitting certain discrete public employee unions to opt-out of terms with which they do not agree…the [majority opinion] allows arbitrators to decide whether public employees should comply with the priorities and expenditure limits set by the distressed municipality plan".

Additionally, "it is also counterintuitive that the General Assembly would exempt certain stakeholders…Act 47 clearly signals the intent to involve all stakeholders in seeking to insure the financial well being of a municipality…[allowing for police and fire awards to be granted regardless of the dictates of the recovery plan] would increase the financial burden on other municipal stakeholders".

Consider that in Pittsburgh there are nine collective bargaining units, two cover police and fire, the remaining seven everything from white- and blue-collar workers, garbage collectors, paramedics, etc. The Supreme Court decision basically states that the collective bargaining agreements, if negotiated between the City and the unions, would not be able to deviate from the plan but if a police or fire contract went to arbitration and the board made an award that violated the plan then that would stand. True, police and fire have had binding arbitration for over forty years but things are a bit different with fiscal distress covering a municipality.

Pennsylvania Becomes a Teacher Strike Dinosaur

The Commonwealth endured three teacher strikes this past school year, with Allegheny County serving as the epicenter of activity.  Walkouts in the Allegheny Valley, Moon, and Bethel Park School Districts inconvenienced students and families and continued the trajectory of Pennsylvania seeing a teacher strike somewhere in the state every year since the 1976-77 school year. 


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City’s Retiree Benefits Problem Getting Worse Fast

As we have written on previous occasions, the City of Pittsburgh’s legacy cost issue is multi-faceted-although little attention is given to some important parts of the problem. Heavy focusing of time and effort on one part of the problem can allow others to worsen. 

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Wisconsin Reins in Government Worker Unions

Back in the wintry days of February, the nation’s attention was focused intensely on the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. Thousands of boisterous protestors took over the public areas of the building in a massive effort to stop one of the most far reaching pieces of legislation the state, or any state, had seen in quite some time. Democrat Senators fled the state in order to forestall a vote on the bill.  But in the end the portions of the bill dealing with public sector unions were voted on and passed on March 11.


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Unions Don’t Have Much Confidence in Their Members

We have had a ringside seat in Wisconsin for the past few weeks of the unpleasant aspects of militant unionism. The nation has watched people disrespect public property, hurl physical threats against legislators they disagree with, illegally enter into the Capitol, support Senators who flee the state rather than honor their responsibilities, and carry Obama defying signs that could be interpreted as inciting violence. Of course the President has apparently forgotten his Tucson speech in which he asked for a more civil tone. Not a word was forthcoming about the hate and intemperance spewed daily in Madison.

But the real underlying story that is not being talked about is what the unions’ opposition to Wisconsin’s new public sector labor law says about the unions’ fear of their members. Union claims that Governor Walker is destroying collective bargaining rights are a smoke screen to hide what they are actually afraid of, namely, that the new law forces unions to be re-certified by membership annually by a vote of 51 percent of eligible voters and the government will no longer deduct union dues from worker paychecks and remit the money to the unions.

If union leaders and hard core members are confident of the support and allegiance of a large majority of members as they purport to be, why are they worried about re-certification and why are they worried about members not freely paying dues on a timely basis? These changes to the law should make no difference at all if most are dedicated to the unions. But that is the point; many unions have lost re-certification elections in recent years. That has led to the need to have the Obama administration use blatantly pro-union tactics and rulings to maintain private union power have to be worrying labor leaders.

With steadily shrinking private sector union participation, the public sector unions are where the movement will have to be saved. And they fully understand that. As a result, they undoubtedly view what is happening in Wisconsin and Ohio as a mortal threat to the labor movement. Thus, the tactics they employ are and will reflect the perceived threat to their existence.

What Will a State Pension Takeover Mean for Pittsburgh?

“A City of the Second Class that is determined to be in Level III distress based upon the required actuarial valuation reports for a plan year beginning on January 1, 2011, shall transfer all existing benefit plans established by the City to the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement Board solely for administration…Pension benefits and eligibility requirements shall continue to be subject to collective bargaining”-Act 44 of 2009, Section 902C

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The Power of Act 111

Uniontown, with a population of 11,541, down from 12,421 in 2000, has witnessed firsthand the power exercised by arbitrators under Act 111 of 1968, the act that outlines collective bargaining for police and fire employees in the Commonwealth.

Experiencing financial difficulties for some time-the City was considering Act 47 status two years ago-there were layoffs in the fire department and the decision was made to eliminate the department when the contract expired at the end of 2010.

But after a lawsuit activated the arbitration process under 111 the department will not go, the employees that were laid off will be recalled and all 13 members of the department are scheduled to receive 3.5% annual raises in a new four year contract that is binding upon the municipality.

Where are the opponents of unfunded mandates when you need them?

Consider that the state’s arbitration law does not take into account whether or not the municipality can afford the settlement, what income levels in the affected community are, and don’t include mediation or fact-finding as part of the process.

Thanks to a $633k Federal grant-free money for sure-Uniontown can pay the costs. But what happens when that grant runs out? If this mandate and the loss of Federal money mean bad things once again for the City then they can always revisit the Act 47 process to see if there is a coordinator willing to lend some expertise. Or the state could take a serious look at the statute (something that has not been done since the late 1970s) and think about criteria related to selection and awards.

Labor Day in the ‘Burgh Will Find No Joy in the Employment Situation

Compounding the litany of financial difficulties confronting the City of Pittsburgh the latest jobless figures (July 2010) show a recession-high unemployment rate in the City’s labor force of 9.1 percent-a level not experienced in well over a decade.  The unemployment rate has almost doubled since the July 2007 reading of 4.7 percent.


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