SCOTT MARTIN | Special to LNP | Updated
Mitchell Sommers recently made the case (“ ‘Payroll protection’ no more than a bid to destroy unions,” Opinion, June 2) that those of us who favor ending the automatic deduction of union dues for employees of Lancaster County government basically “hate the unions” and want to “destroy them.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
While I can speak only for myself, I absolutely agree with Sommers that workers should have the choice to join unions and pay dues to them, and that unions in turn should have the right to advocate for workers. After all, freedom of speech and association is the American way. The problem is that many workers are forced to join unions and forced to pay union dues. Forced association, let alone paying for that association, is not the American way.
But what I most disagree with is the idea that — unlike any other private political organization — unions should be permitted to do this on the taxpayers’ time and dime.
And that is what paycheck protection is about — nothing more, nothing less. Let’s set the heated, hyperventilating rhetoric of hate and union destruction aside and ask ourselves one question: Should taxpayer-funded public resources be used to further the unions’ perfectly legitimate, but private and political ends? While public employee unions negotiate contracts for county workers, they also engage in politics. For example, AFSCME Council 13 reported spending $992,000 of union dues in “political activity and lobbying” in Pennsylvania in 2014.
Sommers makes a point about the cost of automatic, taxpayer-funded deduction of union dues and political money from workers’ paychecks: It doesn’t cost all that much to the government, since those deduction systems are already in place.
But this question is not about how much it costs for taxpayers to underwrite union political activity. As a matter of principle, no one should get away with using public resources to further its private political aims.
Think about it: When politicians use government staff, time or resources for fundraising or politicking, we call it “corruption” and we stick them in jail, and rightfully so. Why? After all, what’s the total cost of a single fundraising email sent from a government address? Irrelevant, that’s what. It’s a question of basic fairness, not of dollars and cents.
So what would paycheck protection actually do? It would make the union collect its own money, like any other dues-based, private, political organization. That’s it.
In order to seriously argue that this would “destroy the unions,” Sommers and union leadership would have to admit something very embarrassing: that members would not be willing to pay their dues if it weren’t for the government garnishing them. Surely, the union rank-and-file is more pro-union than that!
If Sommers is truly afraid that, absent government-funded deductions, union members would suddenly find that the cost of their representation by the union outweighs the benefits, then maybe it’s up to the union to do more to earn the trust, support and dues of its own members. But that’s the union’s problem, not the government’s, and certainly not taxpayers’.
We owe it to our Children & Youth Agency workers, prison guards and all public servants in Lancaster County and in our commonwealth to ensure that they are represented by unions that can stand on their own merits, without relying on taxpayer resources.
Yes, I’m sure there are some in Lancaster County who, as Sommers puts it, “hate the unions,” or think they’re “horrible, evil things” with “no social utility.”
I’m not one of them.
I believe, with Sommers, that unions play a part in our society, but that doesn’t mean they should have special political privileges that no one else has.
Paycheck protection is about basic fairness and equal treatment — and its time has come in Lancaster County and the state as a whole.
Scott Martin is a Lancaster County commissioner.