Pennsylvania Bill Challenges Union Privilege

Pennsylvania government unions are spreading misinformation about a bill that would end the practice of public employers deducting union dues from members’ paychecks.

House Bill 1507, introduced by State Representative Bryan Cutler, would establish what is known as “Paycheck Protection” for Pennsylvania public employees, which ends the practice of using government resources to collect union dues.

Specifically, the bill would amend the Pennsylvania Public Relations Act by making “membership dues and political contributions collected by the employer shall not be subject to bargaining for public employees covered under this act.”

Yet somehow unions’ purport that HB 1507 would implement right-to-work legislation and infringe on private-sector union collective bargaining privileges. A Tribune-Review editorial refutes the unions claims:

Commonwealth CEO Matthew J. Brouillette says these unions are trying “to defend the indefensible” and “using scare tactics.” They’re falsely claiming that HB 1507 is about right to work and would destroy their unions.


The truth? There would be no effect on private-sector matters. Public-sector unions would still bargain collectively. Public employees could still join them and contribute toward union political activities — but they’d have to write checks to do so, which would force bosses to be more accountable about members’ money.”

While the bill may face high hurdles for passage, there is another avenue available to Pennsylvanians that can stop public funds from primarily promoting special interest groups, such as unions.

Pennsylvania’s Constitution contains a provision known as the “Gift Clause.” Article VIII, Section 8 states, “The credit of the Commonwealth shall not be pledged or loaned to any individual, company, corporation or association nor shall the Commonwealth become a joint owner or stockholder in any company, corporation or association.”

At the core of the Gift Clause is that public funds must exclusively be expended for public purposes. In Pennsylvania, and many other states, the courts have created a judicial rule, known as the “public purpose” doctrine, which works hand in hand with the Gift Clause. The public-purpose doctrine was established in Pennsylvania, in Sharpless v. Mayor of Philadelphia.

The “public purpose” doctrine ensures tax funds prominently benefit the broader public and, conversely, a private entity is not the primary beneficiary of public expenditures. In addition, public funds may only be spent when it assists an activity that is a primary function of government that it traditionally performs.

In the Sharpless opinion, Justice C.J. Black states that “the legislature [does not have] any constitutional right to create a public debt, or to lay a tax . . . in order to raise funds for a mere private purpose.” 

Clearly, the government deducting union dues, for political purposes or otherwise, solely benefits unions, not the public. Also, collecting union dues is not a primary function of government.

Hopefully, HB 1507 passes, but if not, the public policy of using government resources to collect union dues should be challenged under the Gift Clause or public purpose doctrine.