Philly Deals: Harrisburg-area group revealed Neshaminy strikers' pay

Leo Knepper, executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, which paid for an ad listing Neshaminy school district strikers' pay.
Leo Knepper, executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, which paid for an ad listing Neshaminy school district strikers' pay.
Posted: June 14, 2012

When Neshaminy School District teachers walked off the job last week for the second time in a year, a list of 600 strikers' yearly pay and benefits [pdf] was quickly printed and posted as an ad in a local newspaper by an antiunion group trying to shame what it called a relatively privileged workforce trying to pick taxpayers' pockets.

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

The ad, prepared from data collected by local taxpayer activists in a right-to-know request, showed that the average Neshaminy striker received pay and benefits costing more than $100,000 a year.

"It really defies reason that they thought they should have access to [compensation] from taxpayers who have no hope of making that much," Citizens Alliance executive director Leo Knepper told me. (Census data show the Neshaminy teachers' average cash compensation is close to the median household incomes for Middletown and Langhorne, two Neshaminy district towns.)

Citizens Alliance, based in Lemoyne (near Harrisburg), and its backers celebrated when teachers canceled their strike Monday. The ad "turned the battle" against the teachers, insisted Philadelphia landlord Bob Guzzardi, who blasts pro-conservative messages to a long list of fellow activists. (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" education group, and has been working for causes "that you might call conservative, but I'd call classically liberal," since he was laid off during the recession as an assistant store manager at the Hershey Brooks Bros. outlet.

In the Neshaminy strike, he said, he saw an opportunity to reach a broad public in a politically mixed area while supporting the school board and other elected officials who have resisted labor demands. Now, 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 problems we have in Pennsylvania," Knepper told me. "We want to make Pennsylvania a more business-friendly environment."

Double the money

LLR Partners, a $1.4 billion-asset, Philadelphia-based investment group that counts Independence Capital boss Ira Lubert among its partners and Pennsylvania's state pension systems among its investors, has bought part of the $6 million investment made by NewSpring Capital, Radnor, two years ago in Maryland-based Message Systems, a $40 million (yearly sales) digital-messaging provider that counts Facebook, Match.com and PayPal among its clients.

LLR paid double the price NewSpring paid in 2010. Both expect the value to keep rising: Message Systems sales quadrupled in the last two years, and the firm is profitable.

Payback

Shares of PNC Financial Services Group, the biggest bank based in Pennsylvania and one of the 10 largest in the United States, slipped in trading Tuesday after boss Jim Rohr told investors the bank would set aside an extra $350 million to repay taxpayer-backed home-loan giants Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac (he wouldn't say which) for PNC mortgages that have gone bad.

With the Obama administration and Congress failing to fix the troubled loan-finance system, Bank of America and other big lenders have been assessed billions to cover past losses. But the PNC charge came "out of the blue," wrote analyst R. Scott Siefers of Sandler O'Neill & Partners. He noted PNC was already trading at a discount to other big-bank stocks and the charge "will probably weigh on the stock" for a while.

Siefert cut his estimate for PNC's future profits for the next two years. But he's still urging investors to buy at the current depressed price.

Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, or @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.

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