Union Bosses Trade Blows Over Philly Soda Tax

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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The labor movement is bitterly divided over Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s plan for a soda tax, with union leaders trading blows in the local press.

Kenney proposed the three cents per ounce tax to fund pre-k education. The policy soon sparked national controversy, with Hillary Clinton wading in to support the levy.

“It starts early with working with families, working with kids, building up community resources — I’m very supportive of the mayor’s proposal to tax soda to get universal preschool for kids,” Clinton said at an event in the Philadelphia in May 2015. “I mean, we need universal preschool. And if that’s a way to do it, that’s how we should do it.”

Clinton’s socialist rival Sen. Bernie Sanders hit the Democratic front-runner, accusing her of attacking the poor. “Frankly, I am very surprised that Secretary Clinton would support this regressive tax after pledging not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000,” Sanders said. “This proposal clearly violates her pledge. A tax on soda and juice drinks would disproportionately increase taxes on low-income families in Philadelphia.”

As the fight over the tax wears on the union movement appears deeply split on the issue. “In its cynical attempts to downplay the job losses Local 830 and other Teamsters locals will suffer if the regressive 3-cents-an-ounce sugary-drinks tax is enacted, the administration continues to say only Teamsters truck drivers would be affected. That’s false, and the administration knows better,” wrote Daniel H. Grace of Teamsters Local 830, in a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer May 26.

“It’s also false that lost sales of sugar-sweetened drinks would be offset by increased sales of water, diet soda, and other drinks without added sugar. That’s not how consumers behave,” Grace added. (RELATED: Bernie Sanders Is Right, Soda Taxes Hit The Poor Hardest)

The prospect of more money for education, however, has a National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees president jumping for joy. Henry Nicholas, president of District 1199C, rejects the argument the poor will bear the brunt of a soda tax.

“For Philadelphians that actually live in low-income communities, that argument doesn’t hold sugar-water. Unlike the wage and property taxes, which are already too high, no consumer has to pay the sugary drink tax,” Nicholas wrote in The Philadelphia Tribune, May 27.

“This is a tax on corporate distributors, which are two steps away from the point of sale to the general public. And even if their corporate greed causes them to pass the tax on to Philly residents, we can easily avoid it by buying one of the dozen other tax-exempt products at the local corner.”

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