Disarming Public Sector Unions One City At A Time
“You talk like a man because of that flashy hardware you’re wearing. Strip it away and you’d shrivel down to boy size.”
Excerpt from Shane, by Jack Schaefer
There’s a reason that the growing nonpartisan coalition fighting for public sector union reform lost a battle last week in California. They are bringing boxing gloves to a gunfight. And the guns employed by these public sector unions are the laws that govern and protect them. Existing laws afford public sector unions decisive advantages in any political fight. To disarm public sector unions, the laws have to be changed.
With union controlled Democrats now holding a supermajority in both houses of the state legislature, reform will have to come at the local level. There are good reasons to consider this approach. The cost to launch a reform effort in a single city is a minute fraction of the cost to launch a reform effort across California. One of the reasons public sector unions consistently win in California’s state elections is because no other political interest can hope to match their spending or their street presence, everywhere, all at once, year after year, in a state with 40 million residents. But to focus the resources of the reform movement on one city at a time cancels out much of the union’s advantage.
Another reason for reformers to launch local reform efforts is the challenge to educate voters in a single city or county is much more easily met. When voters realize that the total compensation of the unionized workforces they are attempting to regain control over from the unions is literally twice what the average voter earns in the private sector, it hits close to home. The average local government worker in California now collects a salary and benefits package that is well over $100,000 per year. In fact, in most large coastal cities, the average is closer to $150,000 per year – an absolutely staggering, absolutely true fact. Here are links to three studies from Anaheim, San Jose, and Costa Mesa, that prove, using actual payroll data provided by those cities, that the average worker in all three of those cities earns a total compensation of nearly $150,000 per year. How will that knowledge sit with voters who are asked to curb the power of the unions who “negotiated” such unsustainable, hyper-generous packages?
Finally, reform efforts at the local level can be as incremental or as expansive as the situation merits. And within California’s more than 500 cities and counties, the many solutions being explored provide a laboratory for reformers. Whether seeking pension reform or campaign finance reform, whether through legal challenges or citizen initiatives, California offers local venues at various scales, inviting multiple efforts using multiple means.
Apart from pension reforms, which are already underway in several of California’s cities and counties, there is another way to take the fight to the public sector unions, which is to become a charter city or county, or to amend a city or county’s existing charter. This can be done through a vote of the residents, and was recently tried in Costa Mesa with Measure V, a sweeping reform that was defeated because the public sector unions outspent the proponents by somewhere between 3-to-1 and 10-to-1, depending on who you ask.
Costa Mesa’s charter, had it been adopted, would have gone a long way towards freeing that city from the tyranny of government union power. It would have barred elected officials from holding jobs with the city at the same time as they held office. It would have freed the city from the requirement to only use union labor to perform construction projects, saving millions. It would have allowed the city to contract with the private sector to secure services currently performed by unionized city employees. It would have prevented the unions from negotiating enhanced post-employment benefits without voter approval. It would have allowed city employees to choose not to be represented by a union in their employment negotiations, and it would have prohibited the city’s unions from collecting political contributions via payroll withholding.
Reformers are encouraged to download this Word document containing the proposed Costa Mesa Charter to circulate and study – note that the sections with the tough reforms are highlighted. It is a fine model for other local reformers to follow. Enacting this charter takes away much of the firepower of the government worker unions. As such, it is a blueprint for freedom.
In the iconic novel Shane, a gunfighter seeking to escape his past learns he must fight again, to save a handful of peaceful homesteaders from the gunfighter hired by a cattle rancher who wants his range back. Unfortunately, there is no Shane riding into this valley. If the people of California want to disarm the unions, they’ll have to do it one city at a time.