According to the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s (PSEA) latest federal filing, the union spends only $1 out of every $5 of member dues representing teachers, support staff, and other members. The other $4 is spent on things like union overhead, politics, and lobbying.
In the run-up to the 2020 election campaign season, the PSEA put over $900,000 of members’ dues into a campaign spending account called the “Fund for Student Success.” While money from the account cannot be given to political candidates, it has no direct correlation 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.
The PSEA also paid its own employees to engage in politics, spending $1.7 million on salaries and overhead related to political activities.
The PSEA spends a significant amount of money on overhead, and it also carries a lot 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 the money it brings in yearly from dues. For this reason, the union spent more on benefits for its employees—$17 million last year alone—than on all union salaries and other overhead combined. As the union struggles to make payments on its debt, it will likely look to raise dues or add new members to keep up.
A LOOK AT PSEA SPENDING 2020-2021
During the 2020-2021 school year, the PSEA collected $64.8 million in dues from school employees, about $100,000 higher than last year, despite having 1,445 fewer members.
Since 2011, teachers’ dues have increased by 27 percent; they now pay $753 to the state and national unions for the 2020-21 school year. This figure does not include the dues district locals may charge.
PSEA members who pay dues to PSEA and the National Education Association fund a web of progressive organizations and politics. At the state level, PSEA continues to spend only about a fifth of its revenue on activities that directly affect its members, while a significant portion of the rest goes to overhead. During the 2020-2021 school year, PSEA spent 5.4% of its members’ regular dues on political activity, including money spent on lobbying and donations to political organizations. By comparison, the NEA uses much more of members’ regular dues for politics— during the same period, about 30% of its spending was on political or related activities. Both PSEA and NEA also collect and spend political money using their own PACs.
PSEA MEMBERS’ DUES PAY FOR POLITICS
Based on the PSEA’s own financial reporting, during the 2020-2021 school year, just 22 percent of the union’s spending went to “representational activities,” the category of spending most directly related to labor representation, such as collective bargaining negotiations, handling grievances, and arbitration proceedings. About 68 percent of the PSEA’s overall spending went to running the union: salaries; union employee health and retirement benefits including payments toward the union’s large pension liabilities; general overhead, including expenses such as: building security guards; multiple union leadership conferences; and the purchase of investments and fixed assets, including land, buildings, and cars.
Teachers and other public employees do not have to pay a union as a condition of employment. However, teachers who remain PSEA members should be aware that union dues are routinely used for political purposes.
In 2020-2021, the PSEA spent over $3.5 million of dues on “political activities and lobbying.” According to federal law, member dues can be used for a variety of political activities, such as get-out-the-vote drives, election mailers, lobbying of legislators, and public marketing campaigns. This spending must be itemized and reported annually to the U.S. Department of Labor on an “LM-2” financial report.
All told, the PSEA has spent almost $40 million of members’ dues money on “political activities and lobbying” since 2010.