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.

5 replies
  1. Avatar
    Richard Rider says:

    All statewide props will henceforth be on the November ballot, unless the Governor wants to hold a special “general election.” That makes them hard for our side to win. But local props can be on the primary ballots.

    So it seems to me that “we” should try to come up with LOCAL props for the June, 2014 election, for reasons I need not explain to you. WHICH local jurisdictions to pick for such efforts is open to discussion (and — MOST important — funding).

    Possibilities (NOT a comprehensive list, just some invaluable suggestions):

    1. Paycheck protection. This is by far the most important one.

    2. School choice. Probably can’t be done on the local level.

    3. MANDATORY outsourcing of certain functions — no “managed competition” bullshit with the rigged bidding process. And outsourcing = fewer government union jobs (and less dues collected). If we HAVE to have managed competition, make damn sure no public official has ANY say about it — perhaps even include a procedure manual. IF we let the elected officials have any say, require a 3/4 majority to override the prop requirements in any given situation.

    4. Banning PLA agreements (where still needed).

    5. Pension reform (adopting the San Diego or San Jose city prop in other cities).

    6. Make charter cities require 2/3 majority to raise ANY tax — general or earmarked. Same for fees above COL.

    7. Change general cities to charter cities.

    8. End the Drug War (okay, okay — perhaps I’m overreaching a bit here).

  2. Avatar
    Richard Rider says:

    Here’s a related column I recently wrote:

    Put “paycheck protection” prop on EVERY ballot
    by Richard Rider

    One lesson from the election I HOPE “my side” now understands and should support — we need to CONTINUE to use the proposition system against the labor unions and the left. Hit ’em with propositions they must fight, or else these unions risk dying from the passage of such reform measures.

    After all, the left doesn’t hesitate to hit US with the same propositions over and over — putting tax raises on the state ballots year after year. Even when these tax props fail miserably, next election they are back with the same thing in somewhat different packaging.

    On the state level, eight times in a row California state tax increases were rejected by the voters over the last decade or so. Did that discourage the Big Spenders? Nope. They put not one, not two, but THREE tax increases on the November California state ballot — plus scores of local tax increases. And finally they got two state measures to pass.

    Let’s do the same thing. We just lost on the latest version of paycheck protection — trying to end the employer collecting money via payroll deduction for political activities. The unions knew full well that would end their control of California, so they spent over $70 million against it. They “won.” THIS time.

    In 2014, we should do it again — preferably on the June ballot. Then there will be no “Obama effect.” And generally speaking, more knowledgeable and conservative voters make up the voting electorate.

    Even if we lose again, we cost the labor unions another $50 million or more — money they otherwise will use to raise taxes and elect their sycophants. It costs us maybe $3 million to put it on the state ballot.

    Even if we spend only a nominal amount on the 2014 prop campaign, the unions will feel compelled to spend a LOT more to make sure it doesn’t pass. And that’s a good thing.

    A second measure we should have on each ballot is a “school choice” proposition. Other states are moving towards at least some use of education vouchers or tax credits. Half the kids in Louisiana are now eligible for school vouchers, with many Democrats supporting the reform.

    We should support that reform. It will cost the unions tens of millions of dollars to defeat such measures.

    School choice is a GREAT “wedge issue,” as nothing harms blacks and other minorities more than our monopoly urban detention center failing government school system. Many if not most urban minorities would welcome school choice — we’ve seen this response around the nation.

    The Democrat Party clearly cares more about labor unions than the future of our kids. A school choice proposition highlights that callous disregard for our children’s future.

    Even when we lose, we get to engage in a months’ long debate on these urgent issues — allowing us to educate the populace in discussions the labor unions fervently which would go away. And it boldly displays which side REALLY cares about the kids.

    One other point. We should not limit such props to the state level. After all, the unions are pushing to raise local taxes every election. Let’s do the same thing.

    Put “paycheck protection and “school choice” props on LOCAL ballots wherever feasible. Bleed the unions white, educate the public while offering real world solutions, and (hopefully) ultimately prevailing at the ballot box. It’s a win-win-win strategy.

  3. Avatar
    David Brown says:

    I have a question. I belong to a pension reform group here in Marin (CSPP Marin). We have pushed our BOS to look into becoming a charter county in order to bring about pension reform. We are being told that even if the county converts to charter status it will have no effect because MCERA (Marin County Employee Retirement System) is a general law retirement system. Apparently state law makes provision for becoming a general law system but provides no path to exit that status. So even if the county becomes charter nothing can be done. Have you looked into this problem? Can you steer us to anyone who might have some expertise in this area? Thanks.

  4. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    Quoting …”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.”

    Taxpayers are being taken for SUCKERS.

    DEAR Taxpayers …. REFUSE any further funding of Public Sector pensions that are greater (as a % of pay) than what YOU get from your employer …. and right now, THEIRS is 2-4 times (5-6 times for safety workers) greater in value at retirement than YOURS !

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