How PA group shamed teachers in union fight

When Neshaminy School District teachers walked off the job in a labor protest last week for the second time this school year, a list of six hundred strikers' pay and benefits was quickly posted as an ad in the local newspaper by an anti-union group sympathetic to the elected school board's firm stand against boosting school pay and benefits.

The $1,600 ad was financed by Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a group founded in 2009 by former railroad contractor and Pennsylvania State Rep. John Kennedy (R-Cumberland) and financed by donors like Penn Waste owner Scott Wagner of York County to push for anti-union "right-to-work" laws, limits on plaintiff's lawsuits against businesses, and state support for private schools.

The ad, prepared from data collected by local activists in a Right-to-Know request last winter, showed the average Neshaminy striker receiving more than $100,000 a year in annual pay and benefits (with benefits accounting for one-fifth to more than one-third of each striker's total).

"It really defies reason that they though they should have access to (compensation) from taxpayers who have no hope of making that much," Citizens Alliance executive director Leo Knepper told me.

Citizens Alliance, based in Lemonye, suburban Harrisburg, celebrated as teachers cancelled their strike. The ad "turned the battle" against the teachers, Philadelphia landlord Bob Guzzardi, who blasts pro-conservative messages to a long list of fellow activists, insisted.

Knepper told me supporters filled his email with congratulatory messages after this public shaming of what they regard as a relatively privileged educators' group demanding more from less-privileged taxpayers. (The teachers said they agreed to return to work, in advance of a court order, "as a sign of good faith" in future talks with the school board.)

Knepper said he was hired by the alliance last fall after a stint at a Heritage Foundation-affiliated "grassroots organizing" group, and has been working for causes "that you might call conservative, but I'd call classically liberal," since he was laid off as an assiastant store manager at the Brooks Brothers outlet in Hershey in a recessionary "downsizing." 

Why Neshaminy?  Citizens Alliance saw the Bucks County strike as an opportunity to reach a broad public in a politically mixed area, by supporting the elected school board and other public figures who have resisted union demands. State Rep. Frank Farry, R-Bucks, a Neshaminy High grad, is among those pushing to ban teacher strikes across the Commonwealth.  

"We're focusing on the labor propblems we have in Pennsylvania," Knepper told me. "We want to make Pennsylvania a more business-friendly environment."