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Single Payer and Progressive Economic Illiteracy

CTA’s New Gambit to Cheat Taxpayers Annually

A bill, near passage, would require you and me to pay for union indoctrination sessions in California. 

California is a fabulous place. Fantastic weather, fertile fields, glorious mountains and a thousand mile coastline have long beckoned many to the Golden State.

And then there is the state legislature.

This law-making body is very far from fabulous. Its main activities in our one-party state are taxing, spending and regulating our business community, workers and economy to death. Additionally, many of its members are in the pocket of the California Teachers Association, which is by far the biggest political spender in the state, unleashing $290 million on candidates and causes between 2000 and 2013.

The latest legislative sop to the unions is AB 2835, a CTA-co-sponsored bill that, if it passes, will force local governments, including school districts, to provide 30-minute in-person orientations, paid for by the taxpayer, to each and every new public employee during work hours within the first two months of their being hired. But as pointed out by several government officials in a piece that ran in the East Bay Times recently, cities, counties and special districts already do that, spending “the better part of a full day educating new employees on the benefits available to them, policies on harassment and violence, and how to respond to possibly harmful workplace situations. Our employees begin their public service with the knowledge they need to serve their communities.”

However, AB 2835 goes way beyond that, requiring local governments to set aside half of an hour – within the first hour of any orientation it provides – for each union representing public employees to speak, with almost no restrictions, to new employees. “It won’t matter if local governments are using an online or video orientation to maximize tax dollars and avoid unnecessary travel expenses. It won’t matter if a police officer or firefighter should be on-call to respond to emergencies instead of meeting with his or her union representative. Every employee. In-person. Thirty minutes during the first hour of an orientation. Every time.”

This requirement would place an enormous administrative burden on government, and it won’t come cheap. The California State Department of Finance has estimated that the mandate would cost taxpayers “more than $70 million annually for local governments and more than $280 million annually for school districts.”

AB 2835 would especially pose logistical problems for schools because the 30 minute orientation sessions would be held during the work day. Colleges, which have numerous collective bargaining units, would be especially affected.  As the Association of California Community College Administrators points out, allowing each collective bargaining unit 30 minutes to make a presentation, “will result in a significant length of time, which will require colleges to hire additional staff to cover classes and other critical campus safety services during the orientations.”

Not surprisingly, the bill is backed by a gaggle of labor organizations. In addition to CTA, the California Faculty Association, California Nurses Association and SEIU are behind it. The opposition includes the California School Boards Association, the League of California Cities and the Association of California School Administrators.

Just as onerous as the cost and disruptiveness will be the quality of the orientation session. This is going to be a hard sales pitch, plain and simple. Or, in less polite terms, indoctrination. I guarantee that the results of a study released in April by the Heritage Foundation – which found that between 1957 and 2011, mandatory collective bargaining costs a family of four between $2,300 and $3,000 a year – will not be a topic of discussion.

Also missing from the pitch will be a recent study by Cornell researcher Michael Lovenheim. He found that “laws requiring school districts to engage in collective bargaining with teachers unions lead students to be less successful in the labor market in adulthood. Students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws.”

Will the orientation stress that collective bargaining creates significant potential for polarization between employees and managers? Or that it decreases flexibility and requires longer time needed for decision making? Or that it protects the status quo, thereby inhibiting innovation and change? Or that it restricts management’s ability to deal directly with individual employees? Nah.

AB 2835 was birthed when CTA leaders were frightened that the Friedrichs decision was going to go against them and decided they needed to deliver a sales pitch to teachers who would no longer be forced to pay money to the union as a condition of employment. But with Antonin Scalia’s death and the Supreme Court’s subsequent refusal to rehear the case, this bill is irrelevant; CTA and the smaller California Federation of Teachers still have a captive audience. Just about every public school teacher in the state will continue to be forced to pay a union if they want a job in a public school. But if CTA and other unions still insist on trying to convince prospective members of their value, they should do it after hours and not ding the taxpayer in the process.

The bill sailed through the California State Assembly and now rests in the State Senate where it must be voted on by August 31sttomorrow, for it to become law. So, if you live in the Beholden State, please contact your state senator immediately and keep your fingers crossed. And should the bill become law, prepare for even more money to be transferred from your wallet to the unions’ already healthy coffers.

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.

The Public Employee Union Chokehold on California

I created a stir last year when I — the former Democratic Senate majority leader — endorsed Proposition 32, the ballot initiative that would have reigned in special interests, including enabling union members to bypass their own union executive boards and make their own choices as to how to direct their own union dues for political causes. After all, I’m a longtime liberal Democrat who supports the right to organize and I still pay union dues. But I served 12 years in the Legislature, chairing two key committees — Public Safety and Education. I had a front-row seat on how the wheels of government are greased to function on behalf of politically connected interests.

Sacramento is where the action takes place to protect powerful interests. On any given day, busloads of children invade the Capitol to see their government in action. They roam audacious hallways, no tour guide giving them the kind of view to which I was privy. That view is largely inaccessible to the public; like the story of Oz, great wizards behind velvet curtains disproportionately call the shots. It’s often wondered what walls would say if they could talk. I’ve been in almost every room of the Capitol, including rooms “across the street” from the dome where, to avoid the appearance of corruption, dominant political forces set up shop to keep tabs on their interests.

WHERE THE REAL POWER LIES

Those are the real halls of power. In the great state where Hollywood lives, legislators bang a gavel in a Capitol committee room to “debate” laws. “Showtime” has begun; usually the dice have already been rolled.

Over time, I chose not to just be a cog in the ever-churning wheel of special interests and status quo — from both the left and the right. I saw a political system that was all too willing to ignore the needs of ordinary citizens, particularly the poor and minority kids I represented in East Los Angeles. I began to tilt at windmills.

It’s hard to condense what I witnessed into the space available for this essay, but within those constraints, I present to you a glimpse into some of those powers behind the curtains. Undoubtedly, I hold special interests from both big corporations and big unions responsible. But as a Democrat, I more so felt the influence of public-sector unions on my party. I hope to illustrate how powerful special-interest public-sector unions took control of government and what it will take for Californians to wrestle back control.

There is no aspect of state government operations or public policy that is untouched by the power of public-sector unions and their allies in Sacramento. The power is omnipresent: from enacting legislation to writing a state budget to confirming state board and commission appointees, labor’s presence is omnipresent. It also includes ghostwriting eleventh-hour legislative changes to push ballot-qualified citizen initiatives to a more obscure ballot position so that their backed initiatives will be seen by voters first. Their influence extends beyond the Legislature, and includes clout with how the state’s legal counsel writes ballot summaries and titles.

Money flows to those who control the levers of power, and in California that means Democrats who have long been allied with, and funded by, public-sector unions. One does not make the decision to “cross” powerful interests lightly, for recrimination is swift. Usually done behind closed doors, one threat was actually televised when, during a budget hearing, a representative of the Service Employees International Union — one of California’s largest public-employee unions — brazenly told legislators “we helped to get you into office, and we got a good memory. Come November, if you don’t back our program, we’ll get you out of office.” Remarkably, not one legislator contested the threat delivered in “the people’s house.”

The most influential public-sector union is the California Teachers Association, which has mastered the politics of how to elect the very politicians who subsequently do their bidding. With approximately 325,000 members — each paying some $1,000 a year in dues — it commands the most powerful war chest in California, raising over $300 million annually to finance its operations. From 2000-2010, CTA spent over $210 million on political campaigning — more than any other donor in the state, outspending the pharmaceutical, oil and tobacco industries combined.

Its political war chest is legendary, allowing it to dominate elections, including school-board races in which turnout is often less than 10 percent. Political consultants fear crossing them because of the potential to be “blacklisted” in the future. Almost half the California budget funds education, thanks to Proposition 98, a 1988 initiative crafted by CTA. Democratic legislators fear interfering with it even though few understand how the formula functions.

Former Senate President Don Perata, D-Oakland, was one of the few to challenge it, comparing it to a “runaway escalator” in need of reform. In retribution, CTA ran ads against him. They were not interested in “taking him out”; rather, the message was more akin to sending dead fish to fellow Caucus members so they would have to choose loyalty: their own president or CTA. In a subsequent interview, Sen. Perata referenced CTA’s arrogant belief that it was the “fourth coequal branch of government.”

Former CTA staffers are ensconced in legislative leadership offices. Legislation benefiting their membership flies through the Capitol. Indeed, class-size reduction was sold to voters as “benefiting kids.” In fact, its main effect was growing the numbers of dues-paying members rather than improving the academic skills of, particularly, poor and minority children. California’s teachers are among the highest-paid in the nation; yet there is little accountability for student achievement or teacher performance. Tenure and seniority are protected. Laws make it almost impossible to fire teachers for incompetence or misconduct. Charter schools — mostly nonunion — are vilified. Any hint of privatization, including creating Special Opportunity Scholarships for kids locked in failing schools, is off the table.

MINORITIES SUFFER OVER SCHOOLS

Ironically, Latinos and African-Americans — the very base of the Democratic Party — are the ones who find themselves in chronically underperforming schools. Ironically, there is a growing divide with increasing numbers of rank-and-file teachers embracing long-needed education reforms. But their executive boards control the dues and dole them out to those who bend to their wishes. Sadly, Democratic legislators too easily kowtow to the money that flows from the teachers union. Frustrated with the Legislature’s inaction, parents increasingly are turning to the courts for relief in a new era of an education civil rights movement.

Like the spoils of a ravaged post-World War II Europe, policy issues are allocated to lead agents. Unsurprisingly, education legislation is largely ceded to CTA officials, who are joined in legislative committees by “the brotherhood of labor” as a show of force. I once authored a bill to simply identify the 10 lowest-performing schools in California to spur turnaround efforts. The line of opposition rallied by CTA included the usual suspects, but even I had to shake my head in disbelief when the lifeguards union joined CTA in opposing reform. It died.

It wasn’t until I was willing to cross party lines and work with a coalition of Republicans, Democrats and an Independent that I was able to enact new rights for parent empowerment in California. Until legislators are willing to put student interests over party interests, we will continue to fund failing schools.

But they are not alone. Legislators strive to stay in good favor with public-safety unions — cops, firefighters and Highway Patrol officers, who hold the gold standard contract for public-safety workers. Benefits are lucrative, typically enabling retirement at age 50 with 90 percent of their final year’s pay guaranteed, including cost-of-living adjustments until death. But these benefits are costly, as we’ve seen in Stockton, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and Vallejo. Punishment is harsh on those legislators willing to challenge public-safety officers. Voters are starting to rescind these at the ballot box — only to find their own elections being challenged in court.

WHEN POLS ARE ON PAYROLL

Despite the stereotyping about California’s “left-wing ideology,” it is a law-and-order state when it comes to public safety. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) membership expanded sharply as California built 22 new prisons over 25 years, and its members are among the nation’s highest paid. They have become a powerful interest, spearheading a scaring of the public into a “tough on crime” mentality. Legislators, fearful of crossing the prison guards, regularly kill bills not endorsed by them. Today, our state prison system remains under federal control. Legislators who don’t support enhanced contracts or suggest prison privatization become targeted. But the payoff is grand for politicians like Gov. Gray Davis, who shortly after taking office negotiated a 34 percent pay hike over five years for CCPOA members. His re-election coffers were soon generously filled.

The list continues. The California Nurses Association, rather heartlessly, worked furiously to prohibit allowing school employees to volunteer to be trained in how to administer medication for epileptic and diabetic children in the event of an emergency. The reason: The union that would lose dues-paying members is now in court suing over the issue.

Legislation continues to be rushed through, often at the last minute, to benefit the hands that feed. Currently, the Senate president himself is carrying a bill for the powerful construction unions to overturn the rights of voters in charter cities.

So how do Californians wrestle back control?

It won’t be easy. However, Californians are increasingly realizing the dysfunctional grip special interests have on their lives. Money is the mother’s milk of politics. Yet Californians must enact restrictions on the influence of that money. Recent Supreme Court rulings that money is free speech exacerbate the complications, but it can be done.

HARMING A CHANGING STATE

Some unions have helped advance agendas that defend quality of life and rights for all Californians. But too many have played a shameful, oversized role in abandoning the needs, hopes and aspirations of a demographically changing California. The answer is not to ban unions but to empower members to gain freedom in choosing how their own political dues are spent. Presently, union members are disdainfully treated as automatic debit cards by their own executive boards — fearful that increased democratization within the ranks will topple them. Indeed, independent, democratic unionism has even helped topple unsavory governments. Until members’ freedoms are enacted, wrestling back control will be all but impossible.

California’s dysfunction is also our own fault. Over 75 percent of voters failed to vote in the last Los Angeles mayoral election. California will never transform itself if citizens refuse to participate. Legislators need to be willing to cross party lines — including risking political suicide — if we are to break the grip, and an informed electorate needs to support them when they do. Open primaries are a start, but we need to ensure they don’t just solidify the power of parties.

Power never concedes power without a fight. The choice is ours. Sadly, we’ve let control be wrested away from us — both by corporations and public-sector unions that seem as though they are too big to fail. They are not.

Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. This article originally appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune and is republished here with permission.

Businesses Can Make a “Social Impact Bond” with Unions

Unions were supporting a bill. This meant taxpayers were about to give unions more money.

That’s what I thought when I saw this notice for a press conference at the California State Capitol on the morning of March 19, 2013:

[California Senate] Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and others announce legislation to “foster increased business and industry investment in linked learning and career pathway programs in California public schools.” 10 a.m., Rm. 1190. Contact: Mark Hedlund 916 651 4006. Also listed: Allan Zaremberg, CA Chamber of Commerce; Jack Stewart, CA Manufacturers & Technology Assn.; Supt. Jonathan Raymond, Sacramento City Unified School District; Dennis Cima, Silicon Valley Leadership Group; Andrew Giacomini, Bay Area Council Board of Directors; Cesar Diaz, State Building and Construction Trades Council of CA; Stephanie Roberson, CA Nurses Assn.; Van Ton-Quinlivan, CA Community Colleges.

In addition to union officials, the leader of the State Senate had gathered a few Democrats in the legislature, the heads of the state’s top organizations representing large corporations, and a few public education officials. (Here is the video of the press conference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKGvTi-PiCM)

What was this proposal that brought together some of the titans of California political power?

The video link to the press conference was titled “High School Dropout Reduction & Workforce Development Bond Act.” Was the State of California actually going to borrow yet MORE money by selling bonds to investors?

The press conference began and Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg began talking about his Senate Bill 594, California Career Pathways Investment. I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to explain, but he insinuated that philanthropic assistance to schools was inadequate to prepare young people in California for the modern workforce. The policy details seemed elusive.

Senate Bill 596 would establish a “Career Pathways Investment Credit” (a tax break) for businesses that “invested” in career technical education under guidelines of a “California Career Pathways Investment Committee.” Every K-12 school district and college district in California would have to create a “Career Pathways Investment Trust Fund.” Those educational districts would enter into something called “Social Impact Bonds” that corporations would buy to fund career pathways programs.

A “Social Impact Bond” would be “a contract between a school district or a community college district and private investors who provide capital in exchange for a share of governmental payments that become available if performance targets are met. Financial returns to investors may vary pursuant to the measured level of performance. The bond issuer may use operating funds from the sale of the bonds to contract with service providers to deliver the services necessary to meet the performance targets.”

A source of public income for this scheme would be the increase of property tax revenues resulting from “the dissolution of redevelopment agencies.” The state would not reimburse these districts for any costs, but the districts would be authorized to “pursue any available remedies to seek reimbursement for these costs.”

Apparently government was going to give corporations a tax break for getting involved in public education, and public educational districts would be forced to establish yet another pot of money to pay for whatever emerged from that involvement. It was unclear who would pay the interest to the corporations and foundations that would “invest” in these bonds.

But what role would unions play? Senator Steinberg referred to growing a “high-wage economy” for “building the middle class” with “high-wage jobs” and “high-wage workers” – the usual Democrat euphemisms for unions.

Among the platitudes about the importance of education, children, jobs, and the future were remarks from a representative of the California Nurses Association and a representative of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.

The nurses’ union official complained that nurses graduating from nursing school were ready to work but couldn’t find jobs in California, so they were moving to other states. Senate Bill 594 was proposed at a good time, because the implementation of Obamacare in California would mean many more jobs for nurses. She saw the California Career Pathways Investment bond act as a huge jobs stimulus package that would restore frayed partnerships between unions, hospitals, and schools.

This argument seemed inconsistent with Senator Steinberg’s claims earlier in the press conference that the bill was needed because young people in California were unprepared to take jobs in a modern economy. According to this labor union official,  young people were prepared to be nurses in California’s health care industry but could not find jobs and thus had to move to other states. (Texas?)

The construction union representative talked about apprenticeship training for trades workers. He claimed that the average age of an apprentice and the average age of a journeyman construction worker were increasing. He noted that unions were in schools promoting construction as a career because new job opportunities in the industry would come with major infrastructure projects. (California High-Speed Rail, on which unions have a Project Labor Agreement?)

Clearly these union leaders aren’t on board with Senate Bill 594 without some sort of guarantee that unions will be getting a piece of this money.

Senator Steinberg ended the press conference by asking for questions from the press. Reporters jumped at the opportunity to ask how this scheme would be funded. Steinberg suggested cutting enterprise zones, using  employment tax credits, and Proposition 98 funds dedicated to education. “By God we’ll find it!” he said.

News Coverage:

Steinberg Pushes Privately Funded Career Training Program – Sacramento Bee – March 21, 2013

Reinvigorating ‘Career Tech’ a Worthy Goal – by columnist George Skelton – Los Angeles Times – March 20, 2013

Steinberg’s legislation is a bit convoluted — at least the financing part — and needs much work…Steinberg is suggesting several financing methods, including tax credits and foundation grants. But the main money source involves bonds. The state would sell “workforce development bonds” — say, for $1 million a crack — to businesses in areas “with the greatest potential for high-wage job growth.” The bond revenue would pay for the career-tech programs. The bond-buyers would earn a rate of return based on a program’s results, as judged by some committee. “I’m not sure I completely understand it,” Zaremberg [Allan Zaremberg, President & CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce] told me. “Why don’t we just fund this out of existing resources? Is this not a priority? … like Zaremberg, he [Jack Stewart, President of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association] doesn’t quite grasp the bond idea.

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.