Jerry Oleksiak Pick Shows Wolf Not Interested In Reform
By Leo Knepper
Back in July, Governor Wolf nominated a union president, Jerry Oleksiak, to be Labor Secretary. As we said at the time:
“Mr. Oleksiak is the President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the largest teachers’ union in the Commonwealth. Making matters worse, Oleksiak also took part in one of the most tax-payer abusive practices available to union officials: he was a ghost teacher.
“As a ghost teacher, Oleksiak worked full time for the PSEA, but he collected a paycheck, accumulated seniority, and pension benefits from the Upper Merion School District. Although the district was reimbursed for his salary and health benefits, Oleksiak and the PSEA still rely on the generosity of taxpayers to cover his lifetime pension benefits…
“In our conversations with business owners and employers, no one has ever complained to us that Pennsylvania wasn’t pro-organized labor enough. According to most recent studies, Pennsylvania ranks at the bottom of places to do business; our labor regulations are a significant reason why. A Labor Secretary with no experience in the private sector and a decade’s worth of experience advocating for policies hostile to the best interest of taxpayers would make the Commonwealth even less appealing to job creators.”
The Pennsylvania Senate had an opportunity to stop this nominee. The leadership of the Senate abdicated their responsibility by allowing him to become Secretary without a vote. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, nominees automatically assume the position if a vote isn’t held in twenty-five legislative days. Senate Republican leaders asked the Governor to withdraw the nomination because they rightly had concerns about Oleksiak’s qualifications. The Governor refused to withdraw the nomination. Rather than putting Senate members on record as either supporting or opposing an unqualified Labor Secretary, Senate leaders allowed him to walk into the position.
Senate Republican leadership, Senators Joe Scarnati and Jake Corman in particular, had an opportunity to stop an unqualified nominee from becoming Secretary of Labor or at worst putting members of the chamber on record. When they failed to take a vote, Scarnati and Corman deprived constituents information about their senators’ priorities. Denying voters this valuable information is a disservice to taxpayers and a shameful example of politics as usual in Pennsylvania.
“It is not because we care about children, and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective because we have power.”
These were sad and shocking admissions made by Bob Chanin, a leader of the National Education Association, an organization of which the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is a member and significant funder.
I think it’s time Pennsylvanians have a serious conversation about the PSEA.
Protecting power — not kids, teachers and taxpayers — is what drives the PSEA. And the PSEA is Tom Wolf’s largest union funder.
Worse yet, in Pennsylvania, public sector employees — like teachers — don’t get to choose whether or not they pay dues. Dues are taken from their paychecks and sent to the unions — like the PSEA — whether teachers like it or not.
This method of collecting union dues has made the PSEA very, very powerful.
And I’ve seen firsthand how the PSEA uses teachers’ dues against them, and against students and taxpayers. They block every effort that would benefit these stakeholders — like solving the pension crisis so that money can actually go to the classroom, and eliminating school property taxes so hardworking people can keep their homes.
Back in February, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill that would stop the PSEA from collecting involuntary dues, and curb their ability to block what’s good for stakeholders. Senate Bill 166 (Paycheck Protection) passed with a vote of 28 (Y) to 22 (N), and upon passage was sent to the House for a vote. This past week, however, the State House defeated the bill by a vote of 102 (no) to 90 (yes).
The PSEA doesn’t like me much — and I’m not particularly fond of the way they work against teachers, students and taxpayers — but make no mistake. When I’m governor, changing this power dynamic will be a top priority of my administration.
Unlike Bob Chanin and the PSEA, as the governor of Pennsylvania, I will be representing children, teachers and taxpayers from day one, because for me, it is about children, and it is about having a great public school for every child, every teacher and every taxpayer.
Like clockwork, several things occur each September in Pennsylvania: Kids have a hard time getting out of bed, compasses required for math class are never used; and, most predictable, teachers will strike.
On that last point, the teachers’ union in Methacton School District in Montgomery County did not disappoint. Just as students and teachers were settling into a rhythm, the union called for a walkout. The result? More than 400 teachers are walking the picket line – potentially for weeks – while 5,000 students sit idle, leaving their parents frantically scrambling.
And it’s not just Methacton, as other strikes are occurring in Pennsylvania, with more surely to come. It’s time to end the recklessness of holding parents and students hostage – especially because there is no downside for teachers, as they will be fully paid for all 180 days of school, regardless of the outcome – and reform our state’s inefficient and expensive educational system.
To modify the legendary quote from Dean Wormer in “Animal House:” Arrogant, greedy and aloof is no way to go through life.
But that’s exactly how the teachers’ unions in Pennsylvania have behaved for decades.
With millions in forced dues – monies automatically deducted from teachers’ paychecks even if they don’t belong – the unions have constructed a statewide political empire, using their muscle to crush any opposition.
To their credit, they have been immensely successful in squeezing every last penny from broke school districts and overtaxed residents. In good economies and bad, they demand and receive large raises and benefits, including, in many cases, free or highly subsidized health care.
So it’s no surprise that Pennsylvania leads the nation in school strikes, with some years seeing more walkouts than all other states combined. As a result, its teachers are near the top in salaries and benefits. Inexcusably, the same cannot be said of student achievement, as SAT scores, literacy, graduation rates and students going on to college are perennially much lower.
And you can’t simply blame city schools for dismal student achievement. A quarter of Methacton’s 11th graders aren’t proficient in math, and almost one of five is deficient in reading. Yet over the last 15 years, the number of students in that district has dropped by 10 percent while spending has more than doubled, to almost $110 million per year. In other words, there’s more money to educate fewer students, but student achievement isn’t where it needs to be, and yet the teachers’ union authorizes a strike because it wants more, more, more. You don’t need an education to know there’s something seriously wrong with that picture.
And that has left many citizens scratching their heads.
Teachers are universally respected for the priceless role they play, but when they strike, it’s seen as a slap in the face – especially as the private sector continues to hemorrhage jobs, with many paying astronomical health-care costs.
Of course, to the unions, more money is the cure-all to improved student performance. Pay the teachers more and give them even better benefits, while increasing funding for public education, and all problems will be solved. But we’ve been doing that for decades, and education achievement hasn’t improved.
The global economy is here to stay, so our dismal academic performance has become dire. Our students are no longer competing solely against those in San Francisco and Seattle, but Stockholm, Singapore and Sydney. Yet compared to our top 30 global counterparts, the U.S. is, at best, in the middle of the pack and more often, much lower.
The solution is to instill accountability and rein in out-of-control unions. Here are two steps to accomplish that:
1) Inject competition by enacting school choice. When parents have a choice in their children’s education, schools that do well will attract more students and succeed, while those that continue with the status quo will lose students and fail. The free market system that has served us so well will have the same effect on our educational product. And for the first time in generations, our students would actually learn the skills necessary to succeed in life.
2) Outlaw school strikes. No public-sector union should have the right to strike, which is why our police and firemen are prohibited from doing so. It is beyond explanation that teachers, in whose hands we place our most valuable asset – our children – are not considered equally essential.
Strikes are disruptive to all parties. Parents endure incredible stress in their frantic search for child care, often risking job security by tending to their children (and blowing hard-earned vacation), and students’ disciplined approach to schoolwork is shattered, with no possibility of a seamless transition after a long strike.
And whom are we kidding? Sure, the law mandates a 180-day school year, but are students really learning anything sitting in a classroom over the Christmas break, or in late June, weeks after exams have been taken? In effect, students are held hostage so that teachers can justify their salaries and school districts don’t jeopardize their state subsidies.
Often overlooked is that teachers are also victimized by strikes. They become pariahs in their communities, and respect for their profession takes a hit. Let’s be crystal clear: Many teachers often don’t agree with union leaders’ decisions. But when that leadership calls for a strike vote – and refuses to use a secret ballot, as is almost always the case – there is virtually no chance of opposition. The risk is simply too high, and mob mentality rules the day.
At the minimum, there should be a law requiring secret ballot votes for school strikes, monitored by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor. That common-sense, practical solution would be overwhelmingly supported by the public – and teachers.
But if you outlaw strikes, basic fairness dictates that there should be a method to resolve an impasse. Perhaps the most viable alternative would be final best offer arbitration, the same system Major League Baseball uses with great success.
In regular arbitration, both sides throw out a number, with the arbiter often adding them together and dividing by two. That’s inefficient, because when one side makes a reasonable offer while the other side comes in with a pie-in-the-sky proposal, the result is lopsided in favor of the greedier party.
But with final best offer arbitration, the arbiter can’t compromise. He must take one of the two proposals in its entirety. That being the case, both sides innately understand the need to be reasonable in their one-and-only proposal, or risk getting blown completely out of the box. Cooler heads would prevail with final best offer arbitration, which is definitely in the taxpayers’ best interest.
Is final best offer arbitration ideal? No, since you are placing an unelected arbiter in a position of power, but in the real world, it’s the best we have to stop unaffordable contracts. It is a classic example of philosophical versus practical, and in this case, the practical side should prevail.
But there’s a huge irony. Because the union leadership has pushed the envelope for so long, the pendulum may be swinging back hard, to the point of potentially being unfair.
Outlawing school strikes (as they are in 37 states) can be enacted like any other law: Passed by the Legislature and affixed with the governor’s signature.
Arbitration, however, requires a constitutional amendment, a difficult process and one that would take at least four years. So the unions are facing the possibility of seeing their right to strike abolished, with no chance of arbitration as recourse. In effect, our teachers would be completely beholden to the school boards, and that is certainly not in anyone’s best interest, most of all our children’s.
But right or wrong, they made their bed, and now they may have to lie in it.
Aware that their backs are to the wall, the unions have spent considerable sums on candidates sympathetic to their “plight.” Unfortunately for them, they’ve suffered huge losses, and the head of the dragon is in danger of being decapitated, as Republicans hold sizable legislative majorities, and the upcoming governor’s race could easily swing to the GOP.
Hopefully, the do-nothing state Legislature will stop sleeping in class and strike while the iron’s hot, outlawing school strikes once and for all.
If our state lawmakers do that, they would deserve an A.
Jerry Oleksiak Ghost Teacher — Last week, Governor Wolf once again put his ideology ahead of what is best for Pennsylvania when He nominated Jerry Oleksiak to be the new Labor Secretary. Mr. Oleksiak is the President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the largest teachers’ union in the Commonwealth. Making matters worse, Oleksiak also took part in one of the most tax-payer abusive practices available to union officials: he was a ghost teacher.
As a ghost teacher, Oleksiak worked full time for the PSEA, but he collected a paycheck, accumulated seniority, and pension benefits from the Upper Merion School District. Although the district was reimbursed for his salary and health benefits, Oleksiak and the PSEA still rely on the generosity of taxpayers to cover his lifetime pension benefits.
Mr. Oleksiak penned an editorial questioning the fitness of President Trump’s selection for Education Secretary because of her lack of experience in the classroom. Using experience as a measuring stick, how does Oleksiak stack up?
Has he ever dealt with the unemployment system as an employer? Has he ever had to appeal a workers’ compensation assessment? We can continue this line of inquiry for some time, and the answer would continue to show a dearth of experience on the part of Mr. Oleksiak.
In our conversations with business owners and employers, no one has ever complained to us that Pennsylvania wasn’t pro-organized labor enough. According to most recent studies, Pennsylvania ranks at the bottom of places to do business; our labor regulations are a significant reason why. A Labor Secretary with no experience in the private sector and a decade’s worth of experience advocating for policies hostile to the best interest of taxpayers would make the Commonwealth even less appealing to job creators.
Oleksiak’s nomination will go to the Senate where there is an opportunity to stop it. Republicans have a supermajority in the Senate, but so far they have not been willing to use it to benefit taxpayers. Here is a chance for Senators to remedy that mistake.
I have repeatedly expressed that the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), is the number one public sector union that opposes any type of reform in Harrisburg, particularly pension reform and school tax elimination.
Apparently as a result of yesterday’s email blast, I have gotten the PSEA’s attention.
Last evening, with the click of a button on a computer keyboard, the PSEA sent an email blast to their 180,000 teacher members.
The email sent out by the PSEA is shown at the end of my email.
When you read the email sent out by the PSEA, it clear to see that the PSEA is trying to raise money for their left-wing, anti-children political agenda by attacking me and one of my colleagues, Senator John Eichelberger, by telling their members inaccurate information.
I need your help to fight the PSEA Union Bosses who are blocking critical reforms that need to take place in Harrisburg.
Every single day, I hear from people that their number one concern is about school taxes on real estate. Last evening, I held a tele-townhall meeting and 90 percent of the questions I received were questioning what we are doing in Harrisburg to solve this large problem.
Let me crystal clear…
The PSEA Union Bosses are against any effort to eliminate school taxes on real estate.
The PSEA Union Bosses are opposed to any pension reform.
The PSEA Union Bosses are against paycheck protection, which is the deduction of union dues from teacher paychecks.
The PSEA Union Bosses are against the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.
Governor Wolf and the PSEA Union Bosses have a very strong relationship with each other.
The PSEA was the largest contributor to Governor Wolf’s campaign when he ran for Governor.
The PSEA has to be stopped and I will lead the fight against the PSEA, so that we are able to enact reforms in Harrisburg that benefit the taxpayers, not the PSEA union machine.
PSEA Corrupts Pennsylvania, Teachers Would Quit It If Able
By Sen. Scott Wagner
I have reported over the last several years in my email updates the power public sector unions have in Harrisburg and that these unions are essentially running Pennsylvania because of their power and influence.
There are two distinct types of unions: private sector unions and public sector unions.
The first union group would be private sector unions, commonly known as the trade unions.
Trade unions represent electricians, plumbers, steelworkers, bricklayers, carpenters, equipment operators, steamfitters, and glass installers – mainly construction related workers.
The second union group would be classified as public sector employee unions.
Public sector unions represent school teachers and government workers.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, commonly known as the PSEA, represents approximately 180,000 Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers throughout Pennsylvania.
Two other public sector unions that represent workers at the Department of Labor and Industry, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection are the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, commonly known as AFSCME, and the Service Employees International Union, commonly known as the SEIU union.
The PSEA represents approximately 180,000 K-12 school teachers in Pennsylvania. Each teacher pays approximately $800 per year in union dues to the PSEA.
Therefore on an annual basis, the PSEA collects approximately $144 million from 180,000 school teachers.
It is hard to know exactly how much of the $144 million is used for political purposes in Harrisburg and how much is used for bargaining and representation of the teachers.
I have seen first-hand the amount of money spent on political contributions to House and Senate members in Harrisburg and the amount spent on lobbying.
The PSEA is the most powerful union in Harrisburg and to collect approximately $144 Million Dollars per year in dues makes the PSEA a very large enterprise.
At PSEA headquarters in Harrisburg there are several hundred employees that are paid by the teacher dues collected.
The best way to describe the PSEA’s headquarter in Harrisburg would be to say that this is where the PSEA Union Bosses have their offices.
There are many great teachers throughout Pennsylvania who do an excellent job of teaching our children and would rather not be a member of the PSEA, but they do not have a choice, and if they had the choice a large majority of teachers would elect not to pay dues to the PSEA.
The PSEA is also a member of the National Education Association commonly known as the NEA, and the PSEA pays dues to the NEA.
The NEA is based in Washington D.C. and had a budget of more than $341 million for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
The operation of the PSEA and the NEA are large enterprises; just think that there are 49 other states in America that have teachers unions also that collect dues from their members.
It would be safe to say that teachers in schools throughout America pay several billion dollars in dues combined to teachers unions.
Teachers unions have become big businesses and yield extreme power over their members and in the states they operate.
Some quick research reveals that the NEA actually is very clear that they represent teachers and do not represent the children because the children do not pay dues.
In the above articles, NEA officials actually make statements – “It’s Not About Kids, It’s About Power” and “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”
These are very powerful statements that make it crystal clear that union bosses at state levels and the national level are in the game for power and money, and not the children.
It is unfortunate because a large majority of the school teachers in Pennsylvania do care about their students and would drop out of the PSEA if they had a choice but they don’t have that choice because of the power of the PSEA.
The PSEA uses teacher dues collected to fight every effort that would result in solving the pension crisis and any initiative to eliminate school taxes on real estate in Pennsylvania.
In order for the teachers in Pennsylvania to stop being represented by the PSEA, it would require a decertification effort, initiated by a single teacher or group of teachers, but the PSEA will never let that happen, because the PSEA is all about power and money.
The Commonwealth Foundation undertook the monumental task of acquiring and analyzing teachers’ union contracts from 499 school districts. Their main findings were shocking, but not surprising. Two of items that caught our attention were the prevalence of release time provisions and the “generosity” of healthcare benefits.
Release time or “ghost teacher” provisions force taxpayers to foot the bill for union activities. Roughly 20 percent of contracts across the state allow for a full release. These teachers don’t set foot in the classroom at all. Instead, they are on the district payroll and can collect a variety of benefits while they work for the union. One of the most expensive benefits that ghost teachers had received, until recently, was a taxpayer funded pension.
On the issue of health insurance benefits, in 99 districts taxpayers foot the entire bill. The workers covered under the teachers’ union contracts don’t pay anything for their premiums. In instances where teachers are required to pay toward their premium costs, they pay far less than the Pennsylvania average of $3,598 per person.
A full summary of the Commonwealth Foundation’s findings can be found on their website; the district-by-district contract details can be found here.
It is fairly common and legal in Pennsylvania for teachers to engage in union activity while continuing to collect their teaching salary. The practice, officially known as “release time”, is written into union contracts all over the commonwealth. In addition to receiving a taxpayer-funded salary, these ghost teachers were also accruing time in the Pennsylvania School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS). In other words, some union officials who had not set foot in a classroom for years were increasing the value of their pension at taxpayers’ expense. That arrangement may finally be coming to an end.
In late June, PSERS revoked the pension credit accumulated by a ghost teacher in Allentown. Furthermore, PSERS ruled that the past two union heads had accrued more than $1 million in pension benefits illegally. An article published by Watchdog.org details PSERS findings:
“PSERS concluded, ‘an active member is permitted to receive retirement credit while working for a collective bargaining organization provided: (1) at least half the members of the organization are members of PSERS; (2) the employer approves the leave; (3) the collective bargaining organization reimburses the employer for the member’s salary and benefits; (4) the member works full-time; and (5) the employer reports only the salary the member would have earned as a school employee.'”
PSERS’s ruling is great news for taxpayers. Teachers who are working exclusively for the union have no business being paid by taxpayers or collecting a taxpayer funded pension. The union is appealing the decision; we will let you know what ultimately happens.
The Fairness Center filed another lawsuit, Feb. 24, on behalf of taxpayers against ghost teachers. Officially known as “release time,” ghost teachers are being paid by taxpayers to conduct union business. The most recent lawsuit addresses the Allentown School District where the union president has collected more than $1.3 million in salary and benefits since the year 2000. When you add in the state portion of her pension, the cost goes up even further. According to a news report on the lawsuit, teachers’ union presidents haven’t had to step foot in a classroom since 1990.
The cost to the Allentown School District, while substantial, pales in comparison to the $1.7 million ghost teachers collected from the Philadelphia School District in 2014. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers also enjoys a rent-free office provided by the school district. An article published by Watchdog.org details some of the political work undertaken by union bosses at taxpayer expense:
“Hillary Linardopoulos, who has not taught in a classroom since 2009, ‘coordinates much of our political activism and legislative involvement,’ according to an op-ed penned by union members that endorses its current leadership team going into an upcoming internal election. Since leaving the classroom, her taxpayer-funded salary has almost doubled to $91,156.”
Legislation to eliminate ghost teachers was introduced last August. The General Assembly should shift the cost of union operatives from taxpayers to the unions. Furthermore, given the blatantly political nature of the work, there is no excuse for forcing taxpayers to subsidize the activity.
The school year is less than a month old, but there are already two districts where teachers are on strike. There also are at least two more districts were teachers have indicated they’d walk out by mid-October. Teachers from Shamokin and Line Mountain Areas are out of the classroom. In both cases, the teachers’ unions are demanding more.
The PSEA negotiator at both school districts is Mark McDade, who makes over $100,000 per year. The situation was neatly summed up in a letter from the Line Mountain School Board:
“It is apparent, by the Association’s last proposal, that the Association has no desire to settle these negotiations . . . Based on McDade’s leadership of 5 other local Teachers’ Unions toward strikes, regardless of how much they are being offered, it is obvious they just want more!”
In Shamokin Area, the School Board offered teachers $9,000 in salary increases over the next three three school years. The Line Mountain School Board was even more generous. Some teachers there would have seen their salaries increase by over $17,000 by 2020. Higher salaries also mean higher pensions. A multi-billion dollar funding shortfall in the pension system means taxpayers all over the state will be picking up those costs.
Pennsylvania is one of only 13 states where teachers may hold students’ education hostage to extract a higher salary and better benefits than the taxpayers who are covering the tab. We also lead the nation in teachers’ strikes. It would appear we are on track to keep that title.