The California State University Employees Union is encouraging its members to intimidate people who are gathering signatures for a so-called “Paycheck Protection Initiative” that would limit the ability of unions to use automatic payroll deductions to gain political contributions from their members.
Whatever one’s views of this specific initiative, the tactics CSUEU is employing are so reprehensible that they are viewed as unethical even by another leader of a prominent public-sector union organization.
In a mailing sent to members, CSUEU encourages opponents of the “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act” to “call the Service Employees International Union California State Council at (877) 440-9585 to report where signature gathering is taking place.” Then, “Logistics permitting, State Council will send out one or more trained, well-informed activists to the site to inform potential signers of the truth about the petition. Their purpose is to provide voter education …”
The CSUEU information sheet, which is posted on a Cal State University Long Beach Web site and reproduced below, urges some steps that the organization admits are aggressive. For instance, it encourages members of its union to “Hold a flash mob during high traffic times and have it be around the signature gatherers. It can be fun and wacky, but should drive them away from the signature gatherer.” The stated goal is to drive people away from the signing tables.
CSUEU also implies possible boycotts against businesses: “Engage the businesses that are allowing the signature gathering and mention the buying power of your members. If those businesses have union members, engage those unions on ways to help out.”
It further encourages its members to “challenge the signature gatherers on any infractions” of signature-gathering rules, to “set up chapter tabling in the same vicinity as the signature gatherers” and to engage in what it calls “over-engagement – engage the signature gatherer for extended periods of time, asking questions about the various petitions and using up the time they have on campus during high traffic times. Rotate the individuals to keep this tactic up.”
These tactics clearly are designed to scare people away from signing petitions by using bullying techniques that could become confrontational and even violent. They certainly are meant to keep people from exercising their political rights and are tactics that would not be tolerated if they came from organizations on the political right.
One source had told me that at a regional meeting of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, a police union organization, that PORAC members were encouraged to call the hot line to bring out people to confront signature-gatherers. The source incorrectly suggested that this was a PORAC program, so I called PORAC and talked to its executive director, Carol Bravo, who correctly told me that PORAC is not involved in any such activity. She agreed that it is unethical and said that PORAC focuses its activity on influencing the Legislature.
This is disturbing behavior that is meant to intimidate people who might otherwise support placing the initiative on the ballot. Given some of the recent bouts of union violence and intimidation, this should be a serious concern to anyone concerned about an open, safe and fair election process. It’s troubling that SEIU and its member organizations, including CSUEU, are actively promoting this behavior. It’s troubling that this is on a Cal State Web site.
“Institutions of higher education are where learning and the free exchange of ideas should take place,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “This is an effort to dissuade or intimidate the exercise of free speech. The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone.”
The Cal State media office offered this explanation: “Cal State Long Beach provides, as a courtesy, a web page to unions representing campus staff and faculty. The unions create their respective web pages and are solely responsible for content. The university does not review, approve or endorse union web pages, which reflect union information only.”
The CSUEU did not return my calls.
About the author: Steven Greenhut is the editor-in-chief of Cal Watchdog, an independent, Sacramento-based journalism venture providing original investigative reports and news stories covering California state government. Greenhut was deputy editor and columnist for The Orange County Register for 11 years. He is author of the new book, “Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.”