Public-sector union PACs give lots of cash to Pennsylvania Democrats. Will Janus change that?

The president may think so, but other labor experts aren’t convinced.

32BJ members talk to voters in Philly during the 2016 election

32BJ members talk to voters in Philly during the 2016 election

Charles Mostoller / SEIU Facebook
Sarah Anne Hughes

For some Pennsylvania politicians, public-sector union PACs are among their top donors. The vast majority of those candidates are Democrats.

So will the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on fair share fees spell doom for the party?

On a national level, some labor experts seem to think so. President Donald Trump does so, too.

That’s because per the Janus decision, public-sector unions can no longer collect fees from non-members, even as they negotiate on those employees’ behalf. At least in the short-term, the loss of that fee revenue will likely mean tighter budgets for these unions. Perhaps even more critically, the ruling states that new public employees must opt in, not out, of union membership.

Unions remain optimistic that their ranks with stay steady or even grow post-Janus, but studies have shown that right-to-work laws hurt membership and that — when unions suffer — so does the Democratic party.

That hurt filters down to state legislatures. “Democrats control about 5 to 11 percentage points fewer seats in state legislatures following the enactment of RTW laws,” researchers from Boston University, Columbia University, and the Brookings Institution found. “These losses are felt by Democrats in both upper and lower chambers of state houses.”

The study also concluded that, without unions, state legislatures lose working-class representation and are pushed more to the right.

A matter of principle

It’s not that Pennsylvania’s public-sector union PACs don’t give to Republicans and third-party candidates. They do.

It’s just that they give a whole lot more to Democrats.

That giving simply represents “how closely a politician adheres to union principles,” Gabe Morgan, vice president of Service Employees International Union 32BJ, told Billy Penn and The Incline.

In Pennsylvania, a majority of Democratic lawmakers are in favor of unions and collective bargaining, he said, while “it seems like majority of Republican public officials” aren’t.

As a candidate, now Gov. Tom Wolf received $3.8 million from public-sector unions’ political funds during the 2014 election alone, according to an analysis of campaign finance filings by the nonpartisan Follow The Money. Many prominent Democrats in the General Assembly also get a decent chunk of change from these PACs.

Philadelphia’s Vincent Hughes — Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee — received more than $425,000 from public-sector union PACs in Pennsylvania during the 2016 election, according to Follow The Money. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa of Allegheny County received $355,950 during the same period. Public-sector unions gave his counterpart in the House, Frank Dermody, $163,000 for 2016.

The party imbalance

Again, candidates don’t get money from unions directly. Public-sector unions have political action committees, which are funded by voluntary contributions from members.

However, unions can spend dues (but not fair share fees) on political mailings directed at members and their family, as well as lobbying and contributions to nonprofits.

SEIU’s Healthcare Pennsylvania and 32BJ (which represents workers in several states) have contributed thousands of dollars to left-leaning groups like Equality Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, and Pittsburgh United, according to reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Unions also stress that their PACs give money to candidates regardless of party. That’s true of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees’ Pennsylvania Council 13, whose 50,000 members include nurses, prison workers, and custodians.

But spending on GOP candidates from Pennsylvania pales in comparison to Democrats, per a Follow The Money analysis.