Templeton: Pass Paycheck Protection Now
I have never met Joe Connolly, but I respect him.
Connolly works at a public high school not far from Gettysburg. Every day, Connolly and his colleagues exercise one of the most important responsibilities in our society, which is to educate the next generation. What they do is not just a job, but a high calling, and I am humbled by their service to the public.
I am humbled by Connolly in particular because on a recent television broadcast, I watched him eloquently defend his colleagues’ right not to be forced to fund the political activities of their unions. In doing so, he quoted Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote that "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical."
Hundreds of thousands of Americans are subject to this grave injustice with every paycheck.
Each time Connolly’s fellow educators and other public servants receive a paycheck, taxpayer resources are used to collect dues, fees, and even political action committee donations for the leaders of their unions. These funds – to the tune of nearly $200 million annually in Pennsylvania alone – are then used for political agendas chosen not by the many (workers), but by the few (union CEOs).
I am not objecting to the collection of dues for collective bargaining, only to the collection of dues and contributions that can be used for political purposes. When it comes to private-sector employees, unions do not receive the privilege of having the collection and distribution of these funds underwritten by taxpayers such as Connolly and me.
Fortunately, this practice can be ended, and it has been to varying degrees in many states. A white-hot legislative debate is currently raging in Harrisburg as to whether Gov. Corbett will have the opportunity to sign legislation protecting the paychecks – as I like to put it – of public workers. Many brave teachers are currently appearing on radio and television ads to spotlight their plight. They will no doubt be encouraged by Monday’s Supreme Court ruling invalidating mandated union membership for certain home health-care workers.
As Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority in Harris v. Quinn, "The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from Rehabilitation Program PAs [personal assistants] who do not want to join or support the union."
The ruling did not extend to the broader question of whether public-sector employees can be forced to pay union dues, however, so a legislative fix to this inequality is now more clearly needed than ever.
In explaining why this legislation must be passed immediately, Connolly did well to quote Jefferson. Not only would the great gentleman from Virginia understand why what is happening every day to Pennsylvania’s faithful citizens is unfair and harmful, but he also had an immensely high regard for education. In addition to founding the University of Virginia, in a 1785 letter, he went so far as to spell out the curriculum he thought necessary for a young person.
In that letter, Jefferson offered some additional advice that I commend to Pennsylvania’s elected officials as they decide whether or not to stand with Connolly and his colleagues. It was this:
"If ever you find yourself environed with difficulties and perplexing circumstances, out of which you are at a loss how to extricate yourself, do what is right, and be assured that that will extricate you the best out of the worst situations."
I, among many others, will be deeply disappointed if Pennsylvania’s elected leaders fail to do what is right, as Thomas Jefferson put it, and end this misappropriation of taxpayer resources immediately.
John M. Templeton Jr. is a philanthropist and retired medical doctor who lives outside Philadelphia. [email protected]
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