A non-profit affordable housing complex located in National City, California has become a major political force in San Diego County.
Since 2010, the “San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation dba National City Park Apartments” has donated about $800,000 directly to campaign committees, most of them based in San Diego County. It has been a top donor in 2016 to campaigns to pass bond measures for San Diego County community college and school districts where construction contractors are required to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).
For example, this “low to moderate income apartment community” in National City has given $50,000 to the campaign to pass Measure X, which authorizes the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to borrow $348 million via bond sales to investors. In addition, it helped to pay for polling services on behalf of the college administration. (The polling results had to be obtained from the college through a public records request.) It also gave $50,000 to the campaign to pass Measure Z, which authorizes the Southwestern Community College District to borrow $400 million via bond sales to investors.
This money is obtained through rental payments of apartment tenants. Built in 1968 with US Department of Housing and Urban Development funds, the National City Park Apartments have apparently been owned and managed by the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council since their construction. The head of the Trades Council – Tom Lemmon – is chairman of the Board of Directors for the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation and receives some compensation from the Corporation. He also lived there as a boy. In 2008, the Trades Council paid off the loans from its purchase of the apartment complex.
The payoff of those loans may have triggered the decision to start getting the affordable housing complex involved in politics in 2010. Another inspiration may have been the Citizens United decision issued on January 22, 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court. That controversial decision extended certain political speech rights to non-profit organizations classified under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4) as “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare . . . the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.” The San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation tells the IRS that its purpose is “to provide affordable rental housing for low to moderate income families.”
Below is a list of ways that the National City Park Apartments are providing “affordable rental housing for low to moderate income families.”
Political Contributions of San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation dba National City Park Apartments and Affiliated Entities, 2010-2016
|Election||Recipient of Contribution||Amount|
|2010||Yes on Prop J (San Diego Unified School District parcel tax)||$50,000|
|2011||No on Prop A and Prop B (City of San Diego Project Labor Agreement ban and pension reform)||$5,000|
|2011||Californians Against Identity Theft and Ballot Fraud (radio ads to discourage people from signing petitions for PLA bans and pension reform)||$25,000|
|2012||A Better San Diego Issues Committee, a Sponsored Committee of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO||$100,000|
|2012||Kids First/Yes on Prop Z (San Diego Unified School District bond measure)||$85,000|
|2013||David Alvarez for City of San Diego Mayor (after Bob Filner resignation)||$75,000|
|2014||San Diego County Democratic Party (for David Alvarez for City of San Diego Mayor, after Bob Filner resignation)||$12,500|
|2014||Yes on Prop 41 (Coalition for Veterans Housing, to pass California Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Bond Act)||$5,000|
|2014||San Diego County Democratic Party (for November 2014 Election)||$47,500|
|2014||Escondido Taxpayers Association (opposing ballot measure to enact charter for City of Escondido)||$10,000|
|2014||Chula Vista Voters Against Corruption (committee formed to oppose John McCann for Chula Vista City Council)||$25,000|
|2015||San Diego Works! sponsored by San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO||$15,000|
|2016||Contribution to independent expenditure committee primarily formed to support Proposition I, Barbara Bry, and Justin DeCesare, sponsored by Alliance San Diego Mobilization Fund (preserve San Diego High School in Balboa Park, elect Bry and DeCesare to San Diego City Council)||$25,000|
|2016||San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council Political Action Committee||$25,000|
|2016||San Diego County Democratic Party||$10,000|
|2016||South Bay Parents and Community for Quality School Construction (Sweetwater Union High School District bond measure)*||$73,650|
|2016||Rendon Ballot Measure Committee to Keep California Competitive (committee under control of California State Assembly Speaker)||$10,000|
|2016||San Diego County Democratic Party||$7,000|
|2016||Educators & Parents for Great Schools to Support Whitehurst-Payne for School Board 2016, sponsored by San Diego Education Association (independent expenditure committee primarily formed to support Sharon Whitehurst-Payne; Board Member; San Diego USD)||$10,000|
|2016||Teachers and Parents Putting Kids First Supporting Kevin Pike 2016 (independent expenditure committee primarily formed to support Kevin Pike; Board Member, Sweetwater Union HSD)||$8,000|
|2016||South Bay Families for Affordable College – Yes on Z (Southwestern Community College bond measure)||$50,000|
|2016||Rodriguez for City Council 2016 (Jose Rodriguez, National City Council)||$1,000|
|2016||Rodriguez for City Council 2016 (Jose Rodriguez, National City Council) – office space||$2,700|
|2016||Irene Lopez for San Ysidro School Board 2016||$1,000|
|2016||Tremper for Chula Vista School Board 2016 (Glendora Tremper for Chula Vista Elementary School District board)||$2,000|
|2016||Careers & Affordable Education for East County – Yes on X (Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District bond measure)||$50,000|
|2016||San Diegans for Full Voter Participation, Yes on K and L, Sponsored by Community and Voter Rights Organizations (City of San Diego ballot measures to shift election significance from June to November, when more people vote)||$75,000|
|2016||Careers & Affordable Education for East County – Yes on X – polling (Grossmont/Cuyamaca Community College District bond measure)||$1,875|
* Campaign reports from South Bay Parents and Community for Quality School Construction indicate two $22,500 contributions on February 1, 2016 from the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation that are not in the Corporation’s own campaign reports. Those contributions are included in this amount.
Lobbying and Policy Activity
The San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation also provides funding and support for labor union activism and allied causes. Some examples:
- Since 2011 the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation has employed Murtaza Baxamusa as Director of Planning and Development. Baxamusa is a union-oriented economist involved in many policy debates in San Diego County going back to his previous position with a San Diego-based union-oriented think tank called the Center on Policy Initiatives. He is a leader of the Middle Class Taxpayers Association, a union front group that is displacing traditional fiscally-conservative taxpayers associations as the statutorily-required taxpayers representative on local government bond and tax oversight committees.
- It provides grants to organizations such as the Center for Policy Initiatives, Cesar Chavez Service Club, and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
- It sponsored a lunch in 2016 at the San Diego Housing Federation 25th Annual Affordable Housing and Community Development Conference. The San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council is among the highest-status members in this organization.
- It uses the legal services of Ricardo Ochoa, a union lawyer. Ochoa represented the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation No. 1 for its defense of a civil rights lawsuit for housing and accommodations (Gash v. San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation No. 1). Ochoa also represents school and community college district faculty unions in San Diego County. Recently he filed a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of unions and other groups called “Quality of Life Coalition” – with the political director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 as lead plaintiff – to challenge the ballot arguments in support of a transportation investment plan and sales tax (Measure A) on the November 2016 ballot. During the development of the transportation plan, unions had demanded that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) mandate a Project Labor Agreement on construction contracts funded by the tax.
It’s all about providing affordable rental housing for low to moderate income families.
CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS – SOURCES
The Local Affordable Housing That Labor Built – commentary by Tom Lemmon – San Diego Union-Tribune – June 3, 2011
Building Trades’ Family Housing Corporation Re-Elects Board Members – San Diego Reader – February 8, 2012
Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.
Los Angeles County boasts the world’s largest professional lifeguard association. But most of the association’s 850 guards work seasonally. The incomes of the 150 year-round lifeguards can seem surprisingly rich to anyone raised on the hit 1990s TV show, Baywatch – or anyone who worked as a summer lifeguard at the local pool.
Getting the exact number of Los Angeles County lifeguards was a bit of a challenge. We called up the Los Angeles County Fire Department. They transferred us to the Lifeguard Division in Manhattan Beach. That’s where we learned there are about 850 lifeguards but just 150 full-time lifeguards. The state controller’s website shows about 750 seasonal workers and about 120 full-timers. Transparent California shows over a thousand total lifeguards in 2015.
Here’s the list of the 10 highest paid lifeguards in LA County, which includes total pay and benefits. This list was pulled from the State Controller’s Office and Transparent California:
|Name||Job Title||Total Pay and Benefits|
|Fernando Boiteuz||Assistant Chief||$287,064.96|
|Terry Yamamoto||Section Chief||$265,972.43|
|Erik Albertson||Section Chief||$223,103.25|
There are 93 “Lifeguard Specialists” who earn an average total compensation of $148,000. At least 86 lifeguards earn salaries in excess of $100,000. Add in other benefits, and 128 lifeguards earn total compensation above $100,000. While we don’t know the details about lump pay and “other pay”, some individuals make excessive amounts in those categories. You can see each lifeguard’s pay here.
The cost between the full-time and seasonal lifeguards is massive. The average total wages for a full-time lifeguard is $115,995, while a seasonal lifeguard is $14,092. The average full-time lifeguard has a benefit package of $47,281. A seasonal lifeguard has a benefits package of $2,046.
Though there is not much accumulated overtime in the group, one captain earned base pay of $114,204 – and clocked $125,864 in overtime.
Gerawan Farming settles 2013 labor charge with UFW
By Robert Rodriguez, October 24, 2016, Fresno Bee
Gerawan Farming, the United Farm Workers union and the Agricultural Labor Relations Board have entered into a settlement agreement over a 2013 charge that the Fresno County farming company violated state labor law. The Fresno County tree fruit grower has been at odds with the union over representing its workers. In 2013, the grower was accused by the UFW of not supplying accurate employee contact information to the union. A second and third complaint were later filed, accusing the grower of the same problem. The ALRB investigated the allegations and concluded Gerawan had violated the state Agricultural Labor Relations Act by not supplying accurate employee contact information. (read article)
California: Minimum wage hike, state-run retirement savings plan
By Mark Gruenberg, October 21, 2016, People’s World
A big minimum wage hike that will benefit one-third of the state’s workers and a state-run retirement savings plan that forces companies without pension plans or 401(k)s to enroll workers in retirement accounts head the list of California pro-worker legislation passed this year. The measures are important as the Golden State, which is home to one of every eight people in the U.S., is often a trend-setter for the rest of the country. And the California Labor Federation’s legislative success there shows what can aid workers when they join together to elect pro-worker governors and legislators. They’re also continuing to do so. Despite lopsided pro-worker majorities in the state Assembly and the state Senate, they’re not veto-proof, and the state fed wants to make them that way. (read article)
Why business groups aren’t fighting California’s tobacco and income tax hike initiatives
By Liam Dillon, October 20, 2016, San Diego Union Tribune
Four years ago, business leaders financed a multimillion-dollar campaign to oppose an initiative to raise income taxes on California’s highest earners. The same year, the California Chamber of Commerce was featured prominently in television advertisements against a ballot measure to increase the cigarette tax. Now, with new versions of both the income and tobacco taxes on the statewide ballot, money from the business community isn’t there and neither is the same level of opposition. Instead, many business groups are reluctantly resigned to an extension of the higher income tax rates and, in some cases, are even promoting the cigarette tax hike. (read article)
California’s largest state worker union to vote on strike
By Adam Ashton, October 19, 2016, McClatchy Washington Bureau
State government’s largest union is edging closer to a strike. SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker has called for a strike vote of the union’s 95,000 members beginning next week, according to a statement on the union website. The union is trying to get a bigger raise than the 2.96 percent pay hike Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is offering. Brown’s proposal would raise SEIU salaries by 12 percent over four years, but also require its members to begin paying a contribution toward their retiree health care costs. “We still believe the state can do better,” Walker wrote in a message to SEIU members. Walker wrote to union members that SEIU has been in negotiations with the state for the past six months. In July, union leadership voted to authorize a strike vote. The next step toward a strike would be a vote by union members. (read article)
Can Teachers Unions Bargain for Better — or Fewer — Charter Schools?
By Rachel M. Cohen, October 18, 2016, The American Prospect
In cities across the country, teachers unions have been strategizing ways to broaden the demands they bring to the negotiating table. Organizing under the banner of “bargaining for the common good,” educators and their community allies have started to challenge a legal regime that for too many years left unions solely focused on wages and benefits. One window of opportunity that teacher unions are exploring is charter authorizing—the process of opening, closing, and monitoring charter schools. Though laws vary from state to state, 90 percent of the nation’s roughly 1,000 charter authorizers are local school districts. (read article)
Labor unions, tech firms step up political spending, far more than 2012
By Gina Hall, October 18, 2016, Orlando Business Journal
Labor unions and Silicon Valley have stepped up spending in Washington, D.C. at a remarkable rate during the past year. Labor unions contributed almost $110 million in election spending from January 2015 through August 2016. That marks a 38 percent increase from $78 million at the same point in the 2012 election, and double the 2008 total during the same time frame, according to The Wall Street Journal. The union donations are largely headed to the Clinton campaign and to races that would give Democrats a majority in the Senate. Almost every major union is contributing to the cause. The AFL-CIO spent $11.4 million funding outside political groups so far this election cycle, compared to $5 million at this point in the 2012 election, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The National Education Association has spent $14 million, up from $7.7 million in 2012. (read article)
Labor Leaders Support the Dakota Access Pipeline—But This Native Union Member Doesn’t
By Brooke Anderson, October 18, 2016, YES! Magazine
As clashes over the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline continue in North Dakota, a related battle is brewing in the halls of organized labor. In a statement issued September 15, the nation’s largest federation of trade unions threw in its support for the controversial oil pipeline. Thousands of people, including members of over 200 tribes, have been camped at the construction site for months to stop the pipeline, which would move 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day across four states, threatening the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. As the controversy heated up, four unions representing pipeline workers denounced the water protectors, claiming they were illegal protesters who were committing dangerous actions while Illegally occupying private land. The AFL-CIO, which represents 55 unions and 12.5 million members, quickly followed suit. (read article)
Unions bet big on the Senate
By Gigi Douban, October 18, 2016, Marketplace.org
There’s been big spending by labor unions in this election — and even more in the last couple weeks. The powerful AFL-CIO has spent millions on 2016. Of course, labor unions have long supported Democrats, but this year they’re looking beyond the presidential race to the Senate and even farther down the ballot. Union reps are already in battleground states from Ohio to Wisconsin doing what they do best: knocking on doors, making calls, handing out leaflets at factories. And over the coming weeks, voters in those states can expect an even bigger push. (read article)
Four East Bay construction unions oppose project approvals in bid for developer concessions
By Roland Li, October 18, 2016, San Francisco Business Times
Members from four East Bay construction labor unions have united in an attempt to block at least five approved Oakland projects unless developers agree to implement local hiring requirements, commit to paying union wages and provide other concessions. The new group, East Bay Residents for Responsible Development, won a victory on Tuesday as the Oakland City Council is set to delay a vote for a second time on an appeal of developer Wood Partners’ 262-unit housing project at 226 13th St., according to multiple sources. Construction unions are frequently allied with developers and depend on project approvals to stay employed. But members of the new group feel that the region’s economic boom hasn’t benefitted them. The group has over 100 members who see developers shipping in workers from outside the Bay Area and paying wages that they say aren’t enough to live in the region. (read article)
CTU Delegates Overwhelmingly Support Tentative Labor Agreement
By Matt Masterson, October 18, 2016, Chicago Tonight
The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates on Wednesday evening overwhelmingly recommended a tentative labor agreement with Chicago Public Schools, paving the way for the union’s full membership to issue a binding vote on the deal next week. Nearly 500 CTU delegates participated in a non-binding advisory vote Wednesday at the River North Holiday Inn. Of those, approximately 350 stood in favor of the labor contract, according to union President Karen Lewis. “We have a completely bona fide process,” she told media following the vote, “and there’s always discussion, there’s always people that have completely different points of view, but the key is that we acknowledge that.” With Wednesday’s recommendation, the contract will now be reviewed and voted on by the union’s full membership for final approval. That will take place inside CPS schools on secret ballots Oct. 27 and 28. (read article)
Labor Unions Step Up Presidential-Election Spending
By Brody Mullins, October 18, 2016, The Wall Street Journal
U.S. labor unions are plowing money into the 2016 elections at an unprecedented rate, largely in an effort to help elect Hillary Clinton and give Democrats a majority in the Senate. According to the most recent campaign-finance filings, unions spent about $108 million on the elections from January 2015 through the end of August, a 38% jump from $78 million during the same period leading up to the 2012 election, and nearly double their 2008 total in the same period. Nearly 85% of their spending this year has supported Democrats. Almost every large union is spending more than has been seen in modern elections, financing rallies, canvassing efforts and ad campaigns to bolster Democrats. (read article)
During the 2004 Presidential election there were allegations of voter fraud; the 2000 Presidential election was alleged to have been “stolen” by the Republicans. If you go further back in history, you can point to evidence the Democratic machine in Chicago manipulated election results to throw the 1960 Presidential election victory to Kennedy. A close reading of American history would reveal election fraud as a challenge to our democracy from the very beginning, and in every decade since then. It’s no surprise that we’re discussing it again.
What is a surprise is the opportunities for voter fraud, in this age of biometric identification technology and total information awareness, are actually greater than ever. Using California as an example, here are some of the reasons why:
Voters are not required to present a verifiable photo identification when they vote, and if they wish, voters don’t even have to show up at the polling place, they can vote by mail. Voting by mail causes a variety of problems – first, it precludes anyone showing an identification, and second, it prolongs vote counts after the election as workers tabulate the ballots. And the greater the number of ballots requiring post-election, manual counting, the more opportunities there are for political operatives who have infiltrated our election workforce to manipulate results. And because voting by mail is done outside of the controlled environment of the voting booth at the polling place, there is even less guarantee that these ballots are not filled out by someone other than the person supposedly voting.
And as reported by the Election Integrity Project in 2013, “California Suspends A Critical Method To Prevent Voter Fraud,” buried in the 2013 budget bill was suspension of the requirement that signatures on provisional ballot envelopes be compared against the voters’ registration signatures to determine voter eligibility. Should anyone doubt that election integrity is a bipartisan problem in 2016, consider this article, and this one, among a host of such online reports that allege ballot fraud erased a Bernie Sanders June 2016 primary victory in California.
Six years ago, RedState.com published a report entitled “How Unions or Their Allies Could be Stealing November’s Election Right Now,” alleging massive, systemic, union-orchestrated fraud has been implemented across the U.S. Whether or not this is true, or true at the scale being alleged, should not deter any concerned citizen from considering these charges, because they expose serious weaknesses that challenge the integrity of our voting process. Here are some of the allegations:
The SEIU and others funded the “Secretary of State Project” in 2005, pouring money into races to elect “reform minded” Secretaries of State in battleground states. In nine states since then they have successfully elected their candidates. Since the Secretary of State oversees elections, who sits in that position can potentially have a corrupting influence on election outcomes when there are recounts – or when there is a high percentage of mailed absentee ballots. In California, the employees who count and verify ballots are members of the SEIU. Is this appropriate? Are these people disinterested parties to election outcomes?
The report went on to claim the SEIU has been attempting to manipulate the electoral system across the United States, engaging in actions ranging from submitting forged initiative signatures, to invalid voter registrations, to hacking into voter machines, to destroying evidence of hacked machines. The report discusses how fake IDs are being used to exploit lax voter registration procedures, that illegal immigrants are being signed up as “permanent absentee voters,” and that early voter “rallies” are being held where voters are instructed, as a group, how to mark their mail-in ballots.
Is all of this true? Are unions such as the SEIU the biggest players, engaging in electoral manipulation that eclipses any potential manipulation by the other side? One thing is certain, they certainly have the financial power to do this. Unions, who compel employees to join their ranks and pay them mandatory dues, exercise financial clout that can overwhelm most other special interests, particularly when most other special interests are either terrified of unions or working with them. It is naive to dismiss the idea that big labor, big business, and big government would not have a common interest in colluding to squelch competition by emerging entrepreneurs and disruptive technologies.
Whether or not unions fraudulently manipulate our election results, they certainly buy them. Any reforms to improve the integrity of our elections or impose yet another restriction on campaign finance must first address this fact – unions compel millions of American workers to become members, impose upon them mandatory dues, and use this illegitimately acquired wealth to exercise far too much influence on our democracy.
With all the state and local taxes on the November ballot, one would think that government at all levels in California was starved for revenue. But even a cursory review of the Golden State’s “tax machine” reveals that the tax burden is already too heavy for many to bear. California has the highest income rate in America (likely to be extended for another 12 years) and the highest state sales tax rate. And despite Prop 13, our per capita property tax collections ranks no lower than 14th in the nation.
In the June primary, voters already passed 29 out of 40 local tax increases. But those taxes register as barely a blip compared to the earthquake confronting voters in less than three weeks. According to the California Taxpayers Association, there are 228 local tax measures representing a cumulative tax increase of more than $3 billion per year, along with 193 bonds (more than $30 billion’s worth) that would dramatically increase annual property taxes.
After the June primary, this column observed that the high rate of passage reflected not so much a love for higher taxes as it did the fact that the tax raisers have become experts at gaming the system to pass tax and bond measures. Highly paid political consultants tell local officials not to publicize tax elections to the entire community, but to target only their supporters. This means running stealth elections, communicating (in the case of school bonds) with only administrators and construction firms who are always more than willing to finance political campaigns and, of course, public employee unions who never met a tax they didn’t like.
The strategies that the pro-taxers employ to extract money from an unsuspecting citizenry are endless. For example, many school boards, cities and counties do all they can to time elections so that potential opponents have inadequate time to mobilize. The ultimate goal is to prevent an opposition argument from even appearing in the ballot pamphlet. On countless occasions, taxpayer advocates have been blindsided by proposed tax increases because they were only afforded a few precious days to submit an argument. And when it is too late, there are few legal remedies.
The ultimate insult to taxpayers, of course, is when local governments use public dollars to engage in political advocacy to influence an election. In theory, it is illegal for officials to use public resources (including public funds) to urge a vote for or against a political issue. But, in practice, it happens all the time. Two weeks ago, both the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Central Coast Taxpayers Association filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging campaign reporting violations of the Political Reform Act by the County of San Luis Obispo, the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) and the Yes on Measure J Committee, a group pushing a local transportation tax. These government entities have spent nearly a quarter of a million taxpayer dollars on promotional materials and government employee and contractor compensation supporting Measure J.
As the November election draws near, the complaints about government interference in elections have ramped up dramatically. In Sacramento, the Sacramento City Unified School District used “robocalls” to contact thousands of parents with “important information” about the benefits of a parcel tax as well as statewide Proposition 55. According to the Sacramento Bee, the district sent the scripted messages recorded by five district trustees through its automated telephone message distribution system, explaining how the two tax measures would raise money for school programs and services that otherwise could be slashed. (This despite the fact that education spending in California has exploded since 2010).
Such communications are neither information nor balanced. They are always one-sided puff pieces designed solely to extract yes votes from uninformed voters.
California voters need to be alert to the lies, distortions and illegal expenditures of taxpayer dollars when considering any request for higher taxes. Yes, government services require public dollars. But before voting yes on any tax increase, ask yourself why is it that other states have markedly better public services without the high price tag.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization, dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.
The WikiLeaks document dump exposes NEA’s manipulation of its purported democratic process.
The WikiLeaks email release, unmasking the Hillary Clinton campaign, has become a daily ritual. A treasure trove of communiqués has exposed Hillary to be just about everything that the right (and even many on the left) has said she is. The emails from hatchet man John Podesta, who goes by the title “campaign chairman,” uncover the double dealing and lies orchestrated by the Clinton camp. (Memo to Podesta: Was referring to Bernie Sanders as a “doofus” for his extremist position on climate change really necessary? Sheesh!! But kudos for not following up on the DNC suggestion to smear Sanders’ Jewish background. Too bad you and your cronies chose to slime Catholics, though. )
Lost in the daily email disclosures have been revelations that the National Education Association manipulated the endorsement process to ensure that Hillary was the union’s candidate of choice for president. As reported by Mike Antonucci, on June 13, 2015, four days after Clinton announced her candidacy, her director of labor outreach, Nikki Budzinski, sent a memo to other campaign officials discussing possible strategies for the upcoming NEA Representative Assembly (RA), set for the following month in Florida.
“They are sincerely doing their best to manage the activists at the RA. It only takes 50 signatures to raise a resolution on the floor and I have been warned about a Northeastern Sanders contingent. I think it would be good to be organized on our own behalf with a few key folks in the room (NH and IA leaders) in case anything comes up. I am a little nervous about this event. That said, their steps are moving toward a (sic) October 2nd/3rd endorsement all going to plan.”
NEA had not taken any formal steps to determine who its rank-and-file actually preferred for the Democratic nomination, but it’s no secret that there were many in the union who favored Sanders over Clinton, citing the socialist’s “opposition to charter schools, support for collective bargaining rights and free tuition at public higher education institutions.”
Then on June 19th, Budzinski warned colleagues of an impending endorsement of Bernie Sanders by NEA’s Vermont affiliate. That set off alarm bells and the manipulation machine was set in motion, which Antonucci meticulously details here.
Three months later, on Sept. 29th, an email sent by Podesta to Clinton explained that “despite the intense work” of NEA President Lily Eskelsen García and Executive Director John Stocks, there was no certainty that Clinton would receive enough votes from the union’s board necessary for the endorsement. As reported by Politico, Clinton met with them behind closed doors on Oct. 1st, a meeting coordinated by Podesta and Stocks that was deemed “critical” for the endorsement. The NEA also had a safety net in place that weekend: “They will not call the vote unless they are certain that they will hit the threshold,” Podesta wrote.
And later that same day, the announcement was made that Clinton was anointed, garnering 82 percent of the vote. In response, NEA president Eskelsen García continued the dog-and-pony show gushing, “It was truly what democracy looks like.”
In Chicago, maybe.
Clearly complaints by Sanders and his followers in the union that he was being treated unfairly were justified. Ironically, NEA still refers to its legislative and policymaking body as “The World’s Largest Democratic Deliberative Assembly.”
Any teacher who is troubled by the NEA’s politics and/or its backroom dealing has virtually no options. It’s true that in non-right-to-work states, teachers can refuse to pay for union politicking but they must still fork over about two-thirds a full dues share to the union.
Can teachers join a different union? No. Throughout virtually the entire country, they are stuck with the monopoly bargaining unit that they had no role in electing.
Can you imagine being forced to use the same legal firm that your grandmother did? Nuts, right? But not in Big Labor Land. Most teachers unions were certified 30-50 years ago. As The Heritage Foundation’s labor economics expert James Sherk points out, just 1 percent of current teachers in the largest school districts in Florida were on the job in 1975 when the first and only union election process took place. The other states that Sherk studied have similar statistics.
Union democracy? Oxymoron.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.
Dropout Nation recently reported on the American Federation of Teachers’ 2015-2016 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. As you would expect, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union spent big on influencing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her apparatchiks, as well as pouring heavily into what should be like-minded advocacy and nonprofit groups.
But AFT’s big spending doesn’t just end with political campaigns and co-opting minority as well as hardcore progressive groups. The union even spends big on its own staff and operations.
Start with AFT President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten, whose paychecks put her in the top five percent of the nation’s income earners even as she engages in class warfare rhetoric. The union paid Weingarten $497,311 in 2015-2016, just a couple hundred dollars more than she pulled down in the previous year.
Also well-paid by the union is Loretta Johnson, who serves as its secretary-treasurer; her $358,225 in 2015-2016 was a grand or so higher than in the previous year. Meanwhile Mary Catherine Ricker, the former Saint Paul Federation of Teachers boss who now serves as the union’s number two (and in the process, serving as an obstacle to United Federation of Teachers boss Michael Mulgrew’s ambitions to succeed Weingarten as head of the national union), was paid $311,311, a 5.4 percent increase over her pay in 2014-2015.
Altogether, the AFT’s top three leaders collected $1.2 million last fiscal year, a slight increase over the $1.1 million paid to them by the union in 2014-2015.
Also making bank are AFT’s staffers, though there are slightly fewer of them this time around. Two hundred twenty-two staffers earned more than $100,000 in 2015-2016, seven fewer than the 229 in the previous year. Three out of every five staffers at AFT national headquarters earn six-figure sums. Among the union’s high-paid mandarins: Michelle Ringuette, the former Service Employees International Union staffer who is now Weingarten’s top assistant, made $230,736, while Michael Powell, who serves as Weingarten’s mouthpiece, earned $240,647. Kristor Cowan, the AFT’s chief lobbyist, earned $186,293, while Kombiz Lavasany, another operative who oversees Weingarten’s money manager enemies’ list, earned $184,158.
Supporting these high salaries is an ever-declining rank-and-file base. AFT counts 675,902 full-time rank-and-filers on its roster in 2015-2016, a 3.4 percent decline over the 699,739 members on the roster in the previous fiscal year. [Dropout Nation does not call them members because in nearly every case, AFT and its affiliates use state laws to force teachers to join.] This marks the third straight year of declines and the fifth year of decline within the past six.
The union also experienced a 1.5 percent decrease in the number of half-time rank-and-filers (or school employees making less than $18,000 a year); a seven percent decline in one-quarter rank-and-filers (nurses and state government employees whose unions are affiliated with AFT); and a 2.7 percent decline in the number of one-eighth rank-and-filers. Seems like the union’s once-successful effort to strike affiliation deals with nursing and other government employee unions, an effort that put it in competition with the much-larger Service Employees International Union, has fallen to seed.
Even worse for AFT: Its effort to increase the number of so-called associate members who pay directly into national’s coffers, continues to be in free-fall. AFT counts just 49,984 such members on its rolls in 2015-2016, a 14.5 percent decline over the previous year. This shouldn’t be shocking. After all, AFT cannot provide associate members any real assistance in terms of negotiating teachers’ contracts or addressing work rules. Besides, the associate members can’t even vote in union elections.
As a result of these declines, AFT’s counts just 1.5 million rank-and-filers and voluntary members, a 4.3 percent decrease over the previous year.
The good news for AFT is that the death of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year assured that there was a tie vote on Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association; his vote would have likely led to the overturn of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the five-decade-old ruling that gives AFT the ability to compel teachers pay dues regardless of their desire for membership. As your editor noted two years ago, the end of compulsory dues laws could cost AFT 25 percent of its membership and $36 million in revenue (based on 2012-2013 numbers), a hit for which the union isn’t likely ready to address.
The other good news for AFT is that it hasn’t affected revenue. The $192 million in dues and other agency fees (in the form of a so-called per-capita tax collected from locals and affiliates) generated by the union in 2015-2016 is 21 percent higher than in the previous fiscal year. AFT’s overall revenue of $328 million (including loan proceeds) is unchanged from 2014-2015.
This time around, the union didn’t have to borrow as heavily as it has in previous years to keep operations afloat; it borrowed just $55 million in 2015-2016, half the level of borrowing in the previous year. Overall, the union has borrowed $477 million over the past five years. The union did sell more of its investments in order to make due; the union sold $29 million of its portfolio in 2015-2016, more than double the investment sales in the previous year. Without the loans and investment sales, AFT’s revenues were just $244 million, a 15 percent increase over levels in 2014-2015.
But the bad news is that AFT may still lose revenue. One reason: The abolishing of collective bargaining and forced dues collections in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Michigan. This has resulted in AFT losing teachers who realize that they don’t have to pay into unions that don’t represent their interests.
Another problem for the union: More of its affiliates and locals are either merging with those of the National Education Association or striking affiliation agreements with it. Membership declines forcing such mergers is one reason. But as seen in California, where the AFT’s United Teachers Los Angeles has struck a joint affiliation deal with NEA, the AFT’s larger locals are realizing that such triangulation gives them stronger influence over education policy at state and local levels.
But the gains for the big locals (who honestly don’t need AFT affiliation anyway) means both lost revenue for AFT as well as the ability to keep locals from straying away from the party line. [There’s also that pesky matter of being forced into a merger with NEA, a matter long-discussed among hard-core traditionalists.] Given the rancor from AFT rank-and-filers over strong-arm moves by national to remove wayward leaders in locals such as Detroit, expect more large locals to strike joint affiliation agreements or even break away from the national union in the near-future.
The consequences of efforts to abolish collective bargaining and joint affiliations by locals don’t just hurt AFT’s ability to use money to preserve influence. It also harms its ability to pay for the high costs of employing so many six-figure staffers.
While benefit costs have barely budged (remaining at $17 million), AFT’s general overhead costs increased by 4.8 percent within the past year. The good news for AFT is that it was able to offset some of those expenses with a 10.8 percent decrease in so-called union administration expenses. Meanwhile AFT’s post-retirement obligations increased by six percent (to $38 million) in the past year.
Luckily for the AFT, its staffers and leaders pay into defined–contribution retirement plans used by the rest of the private and nonprofit sectors. A funny thing given its opposition to efforts by school reformers and others to move away from the virtually-insolvent defined-benefit pensions championed by Weingarten and the union. Hypocrisy is like that sometimes.
About the Author: RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.
“The state shall not have any liability for the payment of the retirement savings benefit earned by program participants pursuant to this title.” – California State Senator Kevin De Leon, August 7, 2016, Sacramento Bee
This quote from Senator De Leon, one of the main proponents of California’s new “Secure Choice” retirement program for private sector workers, says it all. Because De Leon’s comment reveals the breathtaking hypocrisy and stupefying innumeracy of California’s legislature.
Let’s start with hypocrisy.
De Leon is careful to protect private sector taxpayers from having to bail out their new state administered “secure choice” retirement plan, but no such safeguard has ever been seriously contemplated for the state administered pension plans for state and local government workers. These plans, using official numbers, are underfunded by about $250 billion. If you don’t assume California’s 92 state and local government worker pension systems can earn 7.5% per year, they are underfunded by much more – at least a half trillion.
Underfunded government worker pensions are the real reason why Prop. 55 is offered to voters to extend the “temporary” “millionaires tax” till 2030. That will raise about $6 billion per year. Underfunded local government worker pensions are also the reason for 224 local tax increases proposed on this November’s ballot, which if passed will collect another $3.0 billion per year. And it isn’t nearly enough.
The following table, excerpted from a recent California Policy Center study, shows how much California’s state and local government pensions systems have to collect per year based on various rates of return. At the time of the study, the most recent consolidated data available was for 2014. As can be seen – at a rate of return of 7.5% per year, state and local agencies have to put $38.1 billion into the pension funds. And at a rate of return of 6.5% per year, which CalPERS has already announced as their new “risk free” target rate, they have to turn over $52.3 billion per year. How much was actually paid in 2014? Only $30.1 billion.
To summarize, in 2014 the pension funds collected $8.0 billion less than they needed if they think they can earn 7.5% per year. But following CalPERS lead, they’re lowering their projected rate of earnings to 6.5%, which means they were $22.2 billion short. There are 12.8 million households in California. That equates to at least $1,734 in additional taxes per household per year just to keep state and local pensions solvent.
And it gets worse. Because in order to ensure this new “Secure Choice” program doesn’t get into the same financial predicament that California’s government pension systems confront, the “risk free” rate of return they intend to project is not 7.5%, or 6.5%, or even 5.5%. No, they intend to initially invest the funds in Treasury Bills, which currently pay at most 2.5%. In an analysis of Secure Choice’s proposed costs and benefits performed last April, we express what using a truly “risk free” rate of return portends for California’s private sector workers vs. public sector workers. These estimates are based on all participants, public and private, contributing 10% to the fund via withholding.
Public sector: Teachers/Bureaucrats, 30 years work – pension is 75% of final salary.
Public sector: Public Safety, 30 years work – pension is 90% of final salary.
Private sector: “Secure Choice,” 30 years work – pension is 27.6% of final salary.
There are two reasons for this gigantic disparity. First, public pension funds collect far more than 10% of salary. While the employee rarely pays more than 10% via withholding, the employer – that’s YOU, the taxpayer – typically kicks in another 20% to 40% or more, that is, a two-to-one up to a four-to-one employer matching contribution. Second, to justify the optimistic projections that make such generous pensions appear feasible, public pension funds have assumed a “risk free” rate of return of 7.5% per year.
Which brings us to innumeracy.
During the fiscal year ended 6/30/2015, CalPERS earned a whopping 2.4%. That stellar performance was followed in fiscal year ended 6/30/2016 by a return of 0.6%. It doesn’t take a Ph.D economist to know that California’s pension funds are going to need to greatly increase their annual collections. It only takes horse sense. But even horse sense eludes California’s innumerate lawmakers.
So here’s a modest proposal. Why not freeze the employer contributions into California’s state and local employee pension funds at 20% of salary (that’s a two-to-one match on a 10% contribution via withholding), and then, constrained by those fixed percentages, lower all benefits, for all participants, on a pro-rata basis to restore solvency. Better yet, why not enroll every state and local government employee in the Secure Choice program? Either way, “the state shall not have any liability for the payment of the retirement savings benefit earned by program participants.”
Along with this modest step towards dismantling the excessive privileges of these unionized Nomenklatura who masquerade as California’s public “servants,” why not enroll all state and local government employees in Social Security? Because California’s public servants make far more, on average, than private sector workers, and because Social Security benefits are calibrated to pay relatively less to high income participants, this step will financially stabilize the program.
Senator De Leon, are you listening? When it comes to state administered programs, all of California’s workers, public and private, should get the same deal.
* * *
Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.
Teachers unions in Chicago and Massachusetts are doing their darndest to stop the spread of charter schools.
Amazingly, the Chicago teachers’ strike didn’t come off. Less than 10 minutes before a midnight strike deadline on October 10th, the district and union cobbled together a deal, pending approval by the rank-and-file. One of the more contentious issues was the so called “pension pick-up.” Teachers in the Windy City are obligated by law to contribute 9 percent of their salaries to their retirement. But in fact, for 35 years the Chicago Public School district has been picking up 7 of the 9 percent. Existing teachers will continue to receive this taxpayer-hosing perk, but teachers hired in 2017 and beyond will have to pay the full 9 percent. (But then again, the newbies will get a salary bump and won’t feel the pinch.) No one yet really knows what the fiscal ramifications of the pension pick-up – or any of the other contract particulars – will be.
One thing that jumped out in the agreement is a stipulation that there will be no new charter schools opened for the duration of the new 4-year contact. You would think that in a city where just 25 percent of 8th graders are proficient in math and 24 percent are in English, that charters would be welcome. According to the Illinois State Board of Ed, attendance in the public schools of choice has doubled in the last five years – primarily in low-income areas – and now has almost 59,000 kids enrolled. The University of Chicago Consortium for School Research reports, “charter school students account for 25 percent of the city’s high school graduates but account for almost half of the students who will enroll in college.” But educating kids, you see, is not a priority for the Chicago Teachers Union.
And then there’s Massachusetts, where on Election Day, Question 2 will ask voters if they support giving the state the authority to lift the cap on charter schools. As it stands, no more than 120 charter schools are allowed to operate in the Bay State. The referendum, if successful, would give the Massachusetts Department of Education the authority to lift the cap, allowing up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charters each year.
Most of us would not consider 12 new charter schools a year a radical move, but then again, most of us are not members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. With an assist from some local school boards and 275 district superintendents, the union’s main arguments against the proposition are their usual ones – charters drain money from traditional public schools, charters cherry-pick their students, yada, yada, yada.
The union’s blather is not going unchallenged, however. According to a Manhattan Institute study, while charter-school enrollment does reduce the net amount of state aid school districts receive in Massachusetts, “it increases per-pupil spending in the 10 districts with the largest number of charter-school students.” The report’s author, Max Eden, explains that while charter enrollments cost district schools over $400 million a year, after the state’s “unique reimbursement” – which he claims is one of the most generous reimbursement plans in the nation – districts are getting paid a significant amount of money for students they no longer teach. In other words, the traditional public schools have fewer students, but more money to spend on those students.
Regarding the union’s cherry-picking mantra – bad idea to use this talking point in Massachusetts. Boston is acknowledged to have the best charter schools in the country. Many use lotteries to determine which students can attend. As researcher Thomas Kane writes, “Oversubscribed charter schools in the Boston area are closing roughly one-third of the black-white achievement gap in math and about one-fifth of the achievement gap in English—in a single school year!”
The good news for the pro-charter forces in Massachusetts is that they have money flowing into the campaign, including $240,000 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $1.8 million from Wal-Mart heirs Jim and Alice Walton. As a result, the unions and their fellow travelers, which are being outspent, are forced to dredge up their time-honored whine about the evils of “outside money” and “dark money.”
The outside money line is amusing because the National Education Association, parent of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and headquartered in Washington, D.C., has sent $4.9 million in “outside money” to the Bay State to oppose Question 2.
The “dark money objection” is even more two-faced. In 2014, the American Federation of Teachers was outed after making an illegal $480,000 ad buy that helped propel Martin Walsh to a Boston mayoral victory over John Connolly, a longtime adversary of the teachers unions. AFT’s dark (and illegal) money groups got dinged to the tune of $30,000 for “failure to organize as a PAC, failure to disclose finance activity accurately, contributions made in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the contributions, receipt of contributions not raised in accordance with campaign law, and use of wire transfers.” (After illegally and successfully spending almost a half-million dollars, a measly $30K fine barely qualifies as a slap on the wrist.) And this “dark money” gambit was hardly a one-off for the unions.
Massachusetts legislators didn’t think much of the AFT chicanery, and in 2014 tried to pass laws requiring more transparency. The Massachusetts Teachers Association balked at the legislation, and citing “technical issues,” tried to kill it. But this past August, after two years of legislative wrangling, H.543 became law, much to the consternation of the unions.
To sum up, in Massachusetts, Chicago and a host of other places around the country, the teachers unions’ mission to limit charter growth or kill them outright goes on unabated. But, please keep in mind, they are, of course, doing it for the children. (Hey – I’ll stop saying it when they do.)
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.
It is no secret that there are a record number of local tax increases on the November 2016 ballot, but the dirty little secret is that the strongest driving force behind these measures is “unsustainable” skyrocketing pension costs.
The specifics of each case need to be evaluated on a case by case basis, which I have done, but the simple conclusion remains a vote for local tax increases is essentially a vote for more government revenue to pay for an explosion in pension costs for public employees.
Each local story is different, and there maybe a few outliers that I have not found thus far, but if you examine the data closely the evidence is there to prove this assertion.
Most of these tax increases are sold as essential to provide some “essential” government function that polls well, such as roads, schools, or public safety, but the real effect is to allow the public agency to free up more funds to pay for the “crowding out effect” that pension costs are having on local budgets at all levels of government in California.
“There are more local revenue measures on California ballots this November than any of the five prior gubernatorial or presidential elections,” stated Michael Coleman, an expert in local government finance, who found that there are 427 measures proposed for the November 2016 ballot. This number is 40-60% higher than any other election going back to November 2006.
A review of the measures reveals that the proposed local tax increases are concentrated in the parts of the state that also have the biggest pension problems, based on my research.
Moreover, a significant number of measures are even proposed in areas such as the Bay Area which have significant economic growth, and therefore growth in tax revenues, but these localities still say they need more money to cover large baseline increases in the cost of government, mostly due to pension and benefit costs.
If you examine local agency annual budgets, more than 80% of their cost increases are driven by pension costs, and other employee compensation benefits costs, particularly health care.
In the Bay Area alone, there are a record number of measures, despite rapid tax revenue growth of 4-10% over the past several years. The growth in real gross domestic product has averaged just over 4% for the San Francisco—Oakland—Hayward metropolitan areas for 2014 and 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The biggest of these measures is the proposed $3.5 billion bond for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) which is paid for by parcel tax increases on homeowners in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco Counties.
But a close analysis of the measure shows that $1.2 billion of the bond can actually go to pay for labor costs which are driving big budget deficits at BART, along with generous contract extensions approved in 2013 and 2016 that boost salaries by more than 30% for workers that were already the best paid transit workers in the nation.
Taxpayers in all three Bay Area counties taxed under the propose BART bond, also face a proposed 0.5%-0.75% sales tax increase for “transportation” and “general city services.”
There are a variety of other parcel taxes on the ballots in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco Counties to pay for schools and school construction. Voters in Alameda County face a hike in the utility users tax to “modernize” the tax at a cost of $9.6 million.
Voters in San Francisco face a proposed increase in the real property transfer tax on homes sold to raise $45 million and another “grocery tax” to raise another $7.5 million.
Why are all these taxes necessary? Primarily to fund unsustainable benefit costs, not improvements in government services provided.
The City and County of San Francisco faces $16 billion in unfunded pension debt for all its public plans based on a “market rate” evaluation by Stanford University, and another $2 billion in debt for retiree health care.
Depite being one of the wealthiest cities in the state, San Francisco’s total net value (assets minus liabilities) is only $6.5 billion as of 2015, which is eclipsed by its pension debt by nearly three times. And this debt continues to grow.
Alameda County has several cities and the county itself, but pension debt continues to be a problem for most localities, particularly the City of Oakland.
The City of Oakland faces a $3.5 billion unfunded market rate pension liability, despite record revenue growth, according to Pensiontracker.org. In 2015, the city’s balance sheet went negative to the tune of $86 billion due to the inclusion of pension costs, down from a positive $1.2 billion in 2014.
Voters in Oakland also face the “grocery tax” on sweetened beverages to raise $10 to $12 million that is sold as being for “health and education programs” but the revenue can in effect be used to help pay for pension cost overruns.
Contra Costa County is another wealthy Bay Area County with surging revenues, but on paper the county is dead broke due to huge pension liabilities. The market value of the county’s pension debt is $6.5 billion, which helped sink the county’s balance sheet in 2015 to a negative $192 million net value, down from $852 million in 2014.
Contra Costa County’s balance sheet will take another $500 million hit in 2017 when its unfunded retiree health care liabilities come onto the books.
San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa are some of the wealthiest and fasted growing in the state in terms of economic and revenue growth, yet they a seeing a continued decline in their balance sheets due to an unchecked explosion in the cost of government, particularly due to pension and other employee benefit costs such as health care.
Politicians who govern these counties and many others in the state, which are even in worse shape, are turning to voters to increase taxes for “essential” or popular government programs.
But the unspoken true is that the underlying cause of the record number of proposed tax increases is the inability of local governments to effectively manage their budgets, particularly with regard to “unsustainable” pension costs for public employees.
Don’t be fooled this November. Every vote for a local tax increase is essentially a vote to reward bad behavior, poor fiscal management, mounting debt, and the state’s unsustainable system of public finance.
The whole system is propped up by powerful public employee union interests both in Sacramento and at the local level, so the only thing “essential” about these measures is that they are needed to continue to fund unaffordable benefit costs for a privileged class of public employees.
About the Author: David Kersten is an expert in public policy research and analysis, particularly budget, tax, labor, and fiscal issues. He currently serves as the president of the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy – a moderate non-partisan policy think tank and public policy consulting organization. The institute specializes in providing knowledge, evidence, and training to public agencies, elected officials, policy advocates, organization, and citizens who desire to enact public policy change.
Vernon, California is so famous for its history of corruption that it was the municipal star of season two of HBO’s “True Detective” series. Now the tiny L.A. County city can claim another achievement: Vernon is the only California city with more public employees than residents.
Vernon’s 210 residents are served by 271 city employees, according to data on the California state controller’s website.
No. 2 Irwindale is a distant second – though just a 30-minute drive (could be hours – depends on traffic in L.A.’s tortuous downtown) from Vernon. In that East Los Angeles County city, there’s one government employee for every one of Irwindale’s 1,415 residents. San Francisco is the only major city on the Top 10, with one government employee for every 22.7 residents.
Here’s the Top 10:
Public employees in Vernon earn an average of $107,848 (plus benefits of $37,571). That’s much higher than nearby hegemon, Los Angeles, where public employees average $83,356 (plus benefits of $12,620).
Several top Vernon officials earn salaries in excess of $300,000:
Mark Whitworth (City Administrator): $402,335
Daniel Calleros (Police Chief): $361,644
Michael Wilson (Fire Chief): $361,359
Carlos Fandino Jr. (Director of Gas and Electric): $324,354
Andrew Guth (Fire Battalion Chief): $304,243
While many of Vernon’s city employees continue earn six-figure salaries, the average city resident earns far less. Per capita income in 2010 was $19,973. Median household income in 2010 was $38,500 – down dramatically from 2000, when it was over $60,000. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 5% of the population lived below the federal poverty line. In 2000, it was 0%.
How does the city fund that dramatic gap in income? By taxing utilities for industry in the city. But because Vernon’s utility rates are among the highest in California, many businesses are moving out. That’s going to put pressure on city officials to trim public services – or to capitulate to the logic of history and become part of a neighboring city. How about Bell?
Conor McGarry is a fall Journalism Fellow at California Policy Center. Andrew Heritage contributed data analysis. Source: California state Controller’s Office.
The state government pension crisis: You will be made to care
By Chuck Devore, October 11, 2016, Washington Examiner
California Gov. Jerry Brown just signed SB 1234, a bill that establishes the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Trust, a state-run retirement fund for 7.5 million Californians. All firms with more than four employees will be forced to participate unless they already offer a retirement plan. Unless they opt out, private sector employees will see 3 percent of their salaries automatically deducted from their paychecks to be held in trust by a panel of politicians and political appointees. What could go wrong? (read article)
California Today: Should You Have More Say Over Megaprojects?
By Mike McPhate, October 11, 2016, New York Times
In most cases, California’s Constitution requires a thumbs-up from voters before issuing bonds for projects like freeway repairs and school gymnasiums. (See, for example, hundreds of revenue initiatives on the Nov. 8 ballot). One type of bond, however, is spared from that test. State law requires no voter approval to issue so-called revenue bonds. Those are bonds supported with revenue generated by the project itself — for example, tolls that help pay off bonds used to build a bridge. That’s where Proposition 53 comes in. The measure, backed by the state Republican Party and numerous groups focused on lowering taxes, proposes extending the voter requirement to revenue bonds for projects that cost more than $2 billion. (read article)
Berkeley nonprofit fails to resolve new contract with labor union
By Ashley Wong, October 11, 2016, Daily Californian
Contract negotiations between the California Professional Employees Union and one of their employers — Berkeley nonprofit Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, or BOSS — remained unresolved after the union refused to sign the new fiscal year contract during an unsuccessful mediation Sept. 27. These discussions have been ongoing since June, though the process began in March. The union’s field representative and campus alumni Christopher Graeber said during the mediation the union was unsatisfied with the negotiations because they wanted the contract to include a request for quarter-year financial reports from BOSS. (read article)
Nevada’s Largest Labor Union Comes Out in Support of Legal Marijuana
By Mike Adams, October 11, 2016, MerryJane.com
The largest labor union in Nevada has come out in support of a proposed ballot measure aimed at legalizing a statewide cannabis industry in a manner similar to what is currently underway in Colorado. On Monday, the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, an organization that looks after the labor interests of around 57,000 workers across the state, announced its support for Ballot Question 2 – a proposal that would allow adults 21 and over to purchase marijuana from retail outlets across the state. The union said it was endorsing the initiative because legal weed would take money out of the black market, create new jobs, and put more wages into pockets of regular, tax paying citizens. (read article)
Former labor union leader says every American aged 18 to 64 should get $1,000 a month from the government
By Kiri Blakely, October 10, 2016, Daily Mail
A former leader for one of the most influential labor unions in the country is speaking out to drum up support for a controversial idea that is beginning to gain ground once again – universal basic income (UBI). Andy Stern, the former head of the Service Employees International Union and author of ‘Lifting the Floor,’ gave a speech on Thursday in Denver in which he advocated giving every American citizen ages 18-64 a $1,000 a month supplemental income. He argues this would be cheaper for the government overall and would give people more discretion with how they spend their money while simultaneously lifting them above the poverty line. (read article)
Proposition 55: Should California extend ‘temporary’ income taxes on top earners?
By Jessica Calefati, October 8, 2016, The Mercury News
Four years after threats of teacher layoffs and massive cuts to social service programs followed Californians to the voting booth, the tax hikes on the wealthy they approved to bail out the state are back on the ballot. But gone is the fierce battle that pitted Gov. Jerry Brown against Republicans, business groups and even a national right-wing fundraising network that funneled millions of dollars in “dark money” into California. This year, the people fighting a 12-year extension of the tax hikes have raised only $3,000 — and the campaign is being run by an obscure public policy professor with no political expertise. (read article)
Teachers union meets with its bargaining unit as talks with CPS continue
By Juan Perez Jr., October 8, 2016, Chicago Tribune
Negotiators for the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration met for several hours Saturday at the downtown offices of a top school district labor attorney after the union had sat down with the bargaining unit that will play a key role in determining if a deal can get done before a threatened strike deadline. The CTU met with its 40-member big bargaining unit earlier Saturday at the Lower West Side headquarters of Service Employees International Union Healthcare. CTU officials said the meeting was to review its position on a potential contract. (read article)
Labor unions unleash attack on North Carolina senator
By Greg Gordon, October 7, 2016, Miami Herald
Two of the nation’s biggest labor unions unleashed a $1.8 million ad blitz attacking Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina Friday, assailing his support for tax breaks for the natural gas industry while he and his wife owned more than $100,000 in energy company shares. In sponsoring the ad, the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union and AFSCME, with 1.6 million members, sought to boost the campaign of Burr’s Democratic rival, former North Carolina state Rep. Deborah Ross, who has led the two-term senator in some polls. (read article)
Labor union fund trustees allege El Camino Paving Inc. refused audit
By Jenie Mallari-Torres, Ooctober 7, 2016, Northern Californian Record
The boards of trustees for several labor union funds allege a California employer has refused to submit to an audit per their bargaining agreement. The Board of Trustees, as trustees of the Laborers Health and Welfare Trust Fund for Northern California, Laborers Vacation-Holiday Trust Fund for Northern California, Laborers Pension Trust Fund for Northern California and Laborers Training and Retraining Trust Fund for Northern California filed a complaint on Sept. 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against El Camino Paving Inc. alleging breach of contract. (read article)
Labor unions backing some Republicans in fight over right-to-work
By Kurt Erickson, October 7, 2016, STLtoday.com
Gearing up for another fight with Republican majorities in the Legislature, the Missouri AFL-CIO unveiled a list of lawmakers it is endorsing in the Nov. 8 election. It includes 13 Republicans in the House and two Republicans in the Senate. The state’s largest labor organization also has sent out nearly 100,000 mailers seeking to boost Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jason Kander and Democratic candidate for governor Chris Koster, as well as remind voters of its opposition to right-to-work. The push by the AFL-CIO won’t help Democrats come anywhere close to recapturing power in either the House or the Senate. But, it could provide enough support to offset business groups and individuals who have pumped millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates who support making Missouri a right-to-work state. (read article)
Labor Department ‘Blacklisting Rule’ Weaponizes Frivolous Union Allegations
By Mark Mix, October 6, 2016, Investor’s Business Daily
An internal Labor Department memo leaked to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation demonstrates the extremes to which the Obama administration is willing to go in its final months to assist Big Labor in forcing millions of American workers into union ranks. In August, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council released the final rule implementing E.O. 13673, Obama’s cynically mislabeled Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order. Concocted by Obama bureaucrats seemingly working in consultation with union lawyers, the rule puts intense pressure on federal agencies to blacklist federal contractors for resisting efforts to corral their employees into unions. (read article)
Charter school settles labor complaint, will pay $106,000
By Associated Press, October 6, 2016, Albany Times Union
A Detroit-area charter school operator has agreed to settle an unfair labor complaint by paying $106,000 to seven of eight teachers who were fired. The settlement closes a complaint at the National Labor Relations Board against Hamadeh Educational Services, which runs four schools. The eight teachers worked at Universal Academy in Detroit. They were not members of a union, but acted together to speak out about conditions at the school during the 2015-16 year. They were subsequently fired. The settlement document says Hamadeh will post a notice that says teachers won’t be disciplined for exercising their rights. The eight are being offered their former jobs, but decided not to return. (read article)
Labor unions talk about Right to Work vote
By Duke Carter, October 6, 2016, WSLS
Virginia is currently a right-to-work state and has been since 1947. This November, voters will have to decide if they would like to make Virginia an anti-union state. Members in unions like Volvo or Hubbel in Southwest Virginia said they like having protection against employers. “The union has supported me financially, which giving very little back,” Robert Patterson a union member said. Union leaders said having that protection is vital, it helps them fight employers for better pay. In November that could change, due to state leaders asking voters if Article 1 one of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to prohibit any agreement or combination between an employer and a labor union or labor organization. Supporters said voting yes would encourage future businesses to come to the area. (read article)
The Southern California Laborers’ Union Provides $207,500 in College Scholarships
By Chad Wright, October 5, 2016, Business Wire
he Southern California District Council of Laborers (SCDCL) awards scholarship money to the dependent children of Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) members in Southern California. Now in its 21st year, the Mike Quevedo, Sr. Scholarship Fund provided $207,500 in scholarship monies to 81 students for the 2016 academic year. The grand total in scholarships awarded for the 2016 year was the highest amount ever awarded in a single year. (read article)
“Political Parties,” published by the German political theorist Roberto Michels in 1911, is a relatively obscure book. But in this book, Michels offers a concept that has increasing relevance today, the “Iron Law of Oligarchy.” This law is summed up reasonably well in its Wikipedia entry:
“According to Michels all organizations eventually come to be run by a ‘leadership class’, who often function as paid administrators, executives, spokespersons, political strategists, organizers, etc. for the organization. Far from being ‘servants of the masses’, Michels argues this ‘leadership class,’ rather than the organization’s membership, will inevitably grow to dominate the organization’s power structures. By controlling who has access to information, those in power can centralize their power successfully, often with little accountability, due to the apathy, indifference and non-participation most rank-and-file members have in relation to their organization’s decision-making processes. Michels argues that democratic attempts to hold leadership positions accountable are prone to fail, since with power comes the ability to reward loyalty, the ability to control information about the organization, and the ability to control what procedures the organization follows when making decisions. All of these mechanisms can be used to strongly influence the outcome of any decisions made ‘democratically’ by members. Michels stated that the official goal of representative democracy of eliminating elite rule was impossible, that representative democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of a particular elite, and that elite rule, which he refers to as oligarchy, is inevitable.”
When Michels came up with this, the technological tools that enabled the powerful to control information were newspapers and radio. The bureaucracies that constituted the “leadership class” were also limited by the technologies available 100 years ago.
Today, two corporations, Google and Facebook, control over half the news and information being viewed by Americans. Our government bureaucracies have the ability to monitor every credit transaction, every email, all online activity. By tracking our phones and the GPS systems in our cars, they know where we go. With facial recognition software and ubiquitous cameras, they can find us even without our phones or our cars. Soon, if not already, they will be able to follow us with drones and micro-drones. Before long, they’ll even be able to disable us or arrest us using robotic devices.
If Michels is right, that the increasing capacities of bureaucratic organizations makes rule by elites inevitable, than the challenges that poses to 21st century democracies dwarf those of 100 years ago. And in this context, the union takeover of our government bureaucracies becomes all the more ominous. Because it underscores the one of the most unrecognized and under-reported scandals of our time: Government unions are not protecting us from oligarchy. They are enforcing it.
It is risky to assert that the communications and information revolution guarantees the advance of freedom and liberty. It’s even risky to assert that these advances guarantee the advance of democracy. Because the sophistication of these new technologies are matched not only by their ability to monitor every American, but by their ability to manipulate. The oligarchs have the wealth, the bureaucrats have the power. Which means that for the most part, their propagandists write the words, and their programmers write the algorithms.
As a consequence, many of the questions we should be asking are largely off the table. Should we slow down immigration and allow our culture time to assimilate recent arrivals? Should we slap tariffs on products that are dumped into our market? Should we assert family values and the virtues of Western Civilization? Should we break up big banks, enforce the “Volcker Rule,” and eliminate the carried interest loophole? Should we stop engaging in endless wars of “nation building” and focus instead on strategic and technological superiority, which would cost less and deliver long term security? Should we develop all forms of clean energy, and redirect our environmental priorities to preserving global fisheries and wildlife? Should we force schools to be accountable and compete for students by offering choices?
No. No. No. No. No. No. And No. Why? Because these policies are not profitable to oligarchs, whose investments are global and whose monopolies benefit from an over-regulated market where emerging small innovators can’t compete. These policies are also anathema to the bureaucracy, because they would elevate the quality of life for the average American – which would mean less unionized government. The more social fragmentation, the more government. The more dependency and poverty, the more government. The more war, the more government.The more rules and restrictions, the more government. The more ignorance, the more government.
The iron law of oligarchy is alive and well in 21st century America, with a twist or two. The corrupt elitist coalition that has undermined American liberties – and is just getting started – is comprised of oligarchs and government unions. One may argue that America has always been an oligarchy. But the rise of high technology and unionized government may spell the difference between a benevolent oligarchy, if there is such a thing, and an authoritarian one.
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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.
AFT continues to use teachers as ATM machines to fund their pet leftist causes.
The latest American Federation of Teachers annual financial disclosure has been released (H/T RiShawn Biddle). This year’s LM-2 is filled with goodies that are sure to warm the cockles of leftist teacher union members, but apolitical educators, centrists and certainly those on the right just may have a different opinion.
Despite all the legitimate bad press the Clinton foundations have received the last few years, AFT still continues to pour more money into their pay-for-play operations. In 2015-2016 the union gave $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and the same amount to the Clinton Global Initiative. This brings the total given by AFT to the Clintons over the past four years to $2.2 million. Maybe the union figures they need to assure that the Clintons won’t go wanting should the money from foreign special interests to secure weapons deals dry up. In any event, the gifts will ensure that AFT president Randi Weingarten will have HRC on speed-dial.
And of course the Clintons aren’t the only leftists to receive loot from the teachers union. The Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive pro-labor and anti-charter school outfit, received $373,000. Additionally, the union gave $25,000 each to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the radical Hispanic activist group, La Raza. Here is a chart with a small, but representative sampling of AFT’s donations:
Clearly there are no gifts to any group that is remotely conservative. Nope. Even though the teachers themselves are anything but a leftist monolith, practically none of the union’s money flows in a rightward direction. In fact, in all elections since 1989, AFT has given $76,446,797 to Democrats and liberals and just $363,000 to Republicans and conservatives. In other words, less than one half of one percent of the union’s political spending goes to the right. (And in those cases it’s usually supporting the more left-leaning of two Republicans running against each other.) The National Education Association isn’t a whole lot better; about 3 percent of its political largess goes rightward. But according to Mike Antonucci, an NEA internal survey in 2005 (consistent with previous results), showed that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” No reason to think AFT is any different. And Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, which serves both public and private employees, acknowledged in January that “64 percent of our public members identify as conservative….” (Like the AFT, about one-half of one percent of SEIU political donations go to Republicans/conservatives.)
So how do the government unions, whose leaders run to the left of the average worker, get away with spending dues dollars on candidates and causes that so many of its members revile? The answer very simply is because its members let them. But teachers and other government workers don’t have to put up with this. Typically about one-third of all teachers’ union dues are spent on politics, but legally the rank-and-file does not have to subsidize the union’s agenda. A teacher can withhold the political portion of their dues by resigning from the union and becoming an agency fee payer. In this scenario, the teacher is still forced to pay about two-thirds of full dues because the union claims it’s forced to represent you in collective bargaining. This is a half-truth; they do have to represent you. But they insist on that set-up because, as the exclusive bargaining agent, they then get to collect dues from every single worker.
A teacher who resigns from the union cannot vote on their contract and loses their union-supplied liability insurance. The latter is essential for a teacher, but that and other benefits are available through joining a professional organization like the Association of American Educators, a non-union alternative.
Sadly, very few teachers have taken advantage of the agency fee payer option. In the Golden State, the California Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate, claims that 35 percent of its 300,000 or so members are Republicans. But only about 10 percent of its members withhold the political share of their dues. That means there are 75,000 Republican union members who are paying for causes and candidates they are opposed to. The national numbers are even worse. Only 88,000 of NEA’s 3 million members (2.9 percent) withhold the political portion.
If enough teachers withheld the political portion of their dues, the unions might sit up and take note. Millions of dollars less to spend on their pet candidates and causes might shake up union leaders – all of whom have become all-too-comfy with their all-too-compliant members – and force them to be more responsive to those they insist on representing. With the failure of the Friedrichs case due to Justice Scalia’s untimely death, the unions still have a captive flock throughout much of the country. But teachers who don’t like being forced to pay for their union’s political agenda need to stand up and just say no. If you do, you will sleep better at night and be a few hundred dollars a year richer. By maintaining the status quo, consider yourself a willing ATM for the biggest political bullies in the country.
For those of you who are sick and tired of subsidizing union politicking, you can get help here.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.