Under One Percent of Pennsylvania Teachers Voted to Join Unions

Zero of 8,000 teachers in Philly have voted in a certification election

January 22, 2016

Fewer than 600 of Pennsylvania’s 105,000 teachers have ever had the opportunity to vote in a union election, according to a new study.

The Commonwealth Foundation, a state free market think tank, found that less than one percent of educators were teaching at the time when their school district unionized. Once a union is elected, it retains the right to represent workers unless an attempt is made to decertify the unit. More than 99 percent of teachers have inherited their union rather than actively voted for them, according to an analysis of about 430 school districts.

Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation and former history teacher, said that teachers in the state should be given the opportunity to affirm their representation in regular re-certification elections. More than 50 percent of public sector workers in the state are unionized, compared to just 12.7 percent of private sector workers, according to the report.

"Imagine the backlash if we were to end regular political elections and tell Americans the party in power now would stay in power for the next four decades," he said in a release. "The outcry would be deafening. Why are public sector labor unions allowed to ignore this basic principle of democracy?"

The problem is especially pronounced in large school districts. Only 17 of the 24,000 teachers working in the state’s 20 largest school districts have ever voted in a certification election. Philadelphia teachers voted to join the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers more than 50 years ago and no election has been held since. Only two Pittsburgh educators were employed by the school district when it voted to join the union in 1973.

The Pennsylvania state Senate is considering a bill that would allow for regular recertification elections "no less than every four years" or when collective bargaining agreements expire. Brouillette said that is a much-needed reform that would allow members to hold their union representatives accountable.

"Perpetual union representation without elections flies in the face of democracy and workers’ rights," Brouillette said in the release. "Just as Americans are guaranteed the right regularly to go to the polls and elect their representatives, workers should be guaranteed the right to re-elect their union at least every four years. It’s time to end government unions’ exemption from democracy and give public employees the opportunity to choose their workplace representation."

Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, said that regular recertification would also remove obstacles that workers face when they try to decertify a union. The process can be derailed through stalling tactics and other procedural hurdles that ordinary workers face.

"We’ve seen time and time again while assisting independent workers, union officials will use any trick in the book to stop workers from forcing a vote to decertify the union, a system which is already in rigged in favor of perpetuating union control," Semmens said. "Regular recertification elections would be a positive step towards checking union forced dues powers."

Update 12:54 p.m.: The subhead has been corrected on this story.

Published under: Unions