There are 16 public sector unions, with more than 44,000 employees, making more than $3.3 billion a year.
Nearly all of their contracts expire on June 30.
The Wolf administration is in the early stages of negotiating those new deals, which has conservatives crying foul because of the $2.6 million in campaign contributions unions gave to get Wolf elected governor.
“The unions’ contributions to the governor’s campaign is really legalized bribery,” said Senator Scott Wagner (R-York), a frequent union antagonist.
It’s also completely legal and the way of the world in Harrisburg (campaign finance reform is another story for another day). Wagner worries that unions are now looking for a return on their investment.
“I think they’re gonna say, ‘you know Governor Wolf we gave you a lot of money and you owe us.’ That’s really what this is all about.”
Conservatives are also blasting the process that allows Wolf, and all governors, to negotiate with unions unilaterally and behind-closed-doors without input or oversight from the legislature.
“This governor campaigned on being an open and transparent governor,” said Matt Brouillette with the conservative Commonwealth Foundation. “We’re not going to know what’s in those deals until they’ve already been signed. So taxpayers will be handed a bill without knowing what was negotiated.”
But Jeff Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman, says taxpayers should trust the governor to do the right thing. He reminds everyone that Wolf’s unilaterally implemented good government initiatives including a gift ban and transparency measures like posting of legal contracts online. Sheridan says Wolf is above reproach and the critics have a decidedly right-wing bent.
“I know where some of these attacks are coming from,” Sheridan said. “The Commonwealth Foundation and certain senators, I think that alone highlights the absurdity of these attacks.”
And Sheridan notes that those unions did not support Wolf in the primary.
“Governor Wolf is committed to making sure that any final deal is done so that the taxpayers of Pennsylvania are the people that benefit from this,” Sheridan said.
But conservatives are skeptical and watching. Wagner wonders if Wolf will play hardball with his union donors especially since Wolf has raised the alarm of a $2 billion state budget deficit.
“Why wouldn’t we have wage freezes right now?” Wagner asked. “Or maybe even layoffs?”
It should be noted that conservatives did not like the four-year deal that former Governor Tom Corbett negotiated with unions that’s about to expire. Corbett agreed to an 11-percent increase over four years.