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PSEA: Where do your dues go?

The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) continues to spend its members’ regular dues on politics, but in recent years union officials have taken steps to hide exactly how it spends that money.

According to PSEA’s latest Department of Labor report on spending during the 2020-2021 school year, the PSEA put over $900,000 of dues money into an account that it calls the “Fund for Student Success.” While money from the account cannot be given directly to political candidates, the fund has no obvious connection to students or their success. In 2018, all of the funds in the account were given to PA Action Alliance, a political committee that donates to progressive Democratic campaign super PACs.

When PSEA created the fund in 2018, the union released a statement saying the account would provide PSEA with “greater flexibility to share news and information… related to issues, policies, elected officials, and pro-public education candidates.”

By creating a separate account, union officials can sidestep requirements to itemize political spending–the bulk of political spending reported in PSEA’s latest filing was placed in this account.

Besides politics, the PSEA also spends a significant amount of money on overhead, including massive payments to reduce the union’s pension liabilities—money it owes to its own staff, not its members.

The PSEA is carrying a significant amount of debt, most of it in the form of money owed to union staff for their pensions, retiree healthcare, and accrued vacation time. The union has $34.2 million in liabilities, which is more than 50% of its yearly revenue. For this reason, the union spent more on benefits for its employees—$17 million last year alone—than on salaries and other union overhead, which came in at $16.6 million.

This reduces the amount of money the union can spend helping its members. According to the latest federal filing, the union spends only $1 out of every $5 on representing teachers and other members. The other $4 is spent on things like politics, lobbying, and union overhead.

AFFT will release the full text of PSEA Where Do Your Dues Go 2020-2021, including greater detail about union spending, in the next few weeks. You can download the PSEA’s LM-2 report here.

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with 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, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.

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