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Show Me the (Union) Money!

The following is an excerpt from our Saturday email, which includes our musings on the latest developments impacting public employees, links to that week’s labor news, and a collection of whimsical reads for your weekend. If you’d like to receive our weekly email, you can use the sign-up form at the bottom of this page. We promise to respect your inbox, and we will never share your email address.

A few weeks ago, I observed an online focus group discussion on the subject of unions in America. The first question out of the gate was, “What is a union?” Answers fell somewhere along the line of “A group of employees who work together to advocate for better working conditions.”

So glowing were those initial definitions that I nearly expected someone to reply in the online chat with the image of Sally Field in her role as Norma Rae, perched high atop a factory floor and holding a cardboard sign emblazoned with the word “UNION.”

But what if I told you that today’s government unions play the role of Goliath in our story of worker vs. big heartless machine? It’s true, and I have the money trail to prove it.

This week, AFFT followed the union money trail via our annual exposé on how the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) spends their members’ dues. We used public tax documents filed by PSEA to learn that only 21% of the union’s spending went toward “representational activities” that directly benefits members.

Not surprisingly, quite a large chunk of money went to PSEA’s parent union, the National Education Association (NEA). And as our infographic shows, the NEA is big business.

The NEA takes money to the tune of more than $33 million from teachers in states like Pennsylvania and distributes it to progressive politicians and activist organizations across the country.

Politics is indeed a core business for the union.

So, the next time someone paints a quaint picture of a union fighting on behalf of the little guy, share our report with them that shows the union is actually Goliath.

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Elisabeth Messenger

Elisabeth Messenger is CEO of Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Elisabeth was in the publicity department at Atlantic Records in Los Angeles, CA. From there, she learned how to build organizations that would impact culture through positions in operations and business development at Universal Music Group, VEVO, and Beats Music.