With Senate Bill 7, California Unions Advance Plot to Neuter City Charters

More than 30 California cities are likely to defy top union officials by asking their citizens in 2014 to vote on enacting a “home rule” charter for local control.

Cities want to free their purely municipal affairs from costly union-backed state mandates, for reasons revealed in these recent articles:

Unions Rise to Defense of “Prevailing Wage” Rates Jeopardizing Hotel Project in Redding – – February 15, 2013 and Redding Needs a Charter to End Nonsense Definition of Private Hotel as a “Public Works” Project – – January 31, 2013.

Stanford Professor Warns Costa Mesa about Pension DebtOrange County Register – February 27, 2013 and City’s Pension Outlook Called ‘Stark’ – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – February 27, 2013. (With the failure of the Measure V charter in November 2012, Costa Mesa is now in the union paradigm with a proposed solution to raise taxes.)

A Former Mayor of a Southern California City Provides an Intellectual Argument for City Charters and Local Government Authority – – February 19, 2013 (a commentary on Reasons to Consider Becoming a Charter City – San Diego Union-Tribune – February 19, 2013).

For a powerful example of how charter cities are saving money and being more cost-effective in their city operations and services, see Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions? Cities recognize that exercising the power of a charter can free their municipal affairs from the grip of the state legislature and the special interest groups entrenched at the capitol. A staff report about city charters to the Murrieta City Council for its October 2, 2012 meeting was blunt about the need for cities to enact charters:

…a knowledgeable, involved electorate should both propel and constrain the direction of its own city. Local control has always been a paramount matter of residents, businesses and the Murrieta City Council. Yet state legislators and previous gubernatorial administrations continue to impose far greater mandates, while at the same time hindering the ability of local governments to operate successfully. With little ability to protest, local governments have watched as the state government continues to balance its budget deficits on the backs of fiscally responsible local jurisdictions…The voice of cities in Sacramento has become mute due to a combination of special interest groups, influential political campaign contributions and tone-deaf lawmakers passing unfunded mandates. This process has left cities with little ability to petition the state government…

A city charter is a unique document that acts like a constitution for a city adopting it. Overall, this puts more control into the hands of the residents instead of state legislators and gives a community greater independence to determine its own destiny. Cities typically enter the process to become a charter city to become more autonomous. A charter city has more flexibility and has ultimate authority over municipal affairs. The charter city provision of the state Constitution, commonly referred to as the “home-rule” provision, is based on the principle that a city, rather than the state, is in the best position to know what it needs and how to satisfy those needs. The home-rule provision allows charter cities to conduct their own business and control their own affairs. Therefore, a charter maximizes local control. Such benefits of a charter city are greater flexibility on public works contracts and other changes in the procurement process, more control over economic development practices, and less reliance on the state.

Right now there are 121 charter cities in California, up from 107 in 2007. But there are aggressive opponents who regard cities’ exercise of their charter authority (as cited above from the Murrieta staff report) to be an attack on their hegemony. In 2011 and 2012, unions spent jaw-dropping amounts per voter on campaigns to convince voters to reject reasonable proposed charters.

Charters were defeated in Rancho Palos Verdes, Auburn, Costa Mesa, Escondido, and Grover Beach, to the dismay of civic leaders whose local grassroots efforts were rolled over by well-funded union-backed professional campaign operations. Unions are now ready to crush California’s federalist rebellion once and for all in 2013 and 2014.

As one strategy, they are infiltrating and trying to neutralize the League of California Cities as an organization that provides information to cities looking at charters. A union-affiliated group called is trying to influence the League of California Cities through sponsorship, partnership, and participation in the League’s Transportation, Communication & Public Works Committee.

Unions are aggressively opposing charters when proposed on the local level and are trying to derail proposals through charter review commissions (a strategy that worked for unions in Elk Grove, Redding, and other cities). See the newspaper articles listed below for evidence.

Union lobbyists also have a bill now in the California State Legislature (Senate Bill 7) introduced by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg and a Republican State Senator, Anthony Cannella. It will cut off state funding for cities that use their constitutional charter authority to establish their own policies concerning state-mandated construction wage rates. (See Bill Introduced in State Senate to Suppress Authority of California’s Charter Cities to Establish Their Own Policies on Government-Mandated Construction Wage Rates – – February 20, 2013.)

This bill adopts the same concept of crushing charter city authority as did the union-backed Senate Bill 922 in 2011 and Senate Bill 829 in 2012 (two bills pushed by Senator Michael Rubio, who just resigned to take a lobbying position with Chevron). These two laws cut off state money to charter cities that adopt policies prohibiting those cities from requiring construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of work.

Threatening to withhold money as a tactic to force a government to submit to centralized authority may remind you of warnings in the dissent in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June 2012 concerning the constitutionality of Obamacare:

Structural protections – notably, the restraints imposed by federalism and separation of powers – are less romantic and have less obvious a connection to personal freedom…The fragmentation of power produced by the structure of our Government is central to liberty, and when we destroy it, we place liberty at peril…[The] practice of attaching conditions to federal funds greatly increases federal power…This formidable power, if not checked in any way, would present a grave threat to the system of federalism created by our Constitution…Coercing States to accept conditions risks the destruction of the “unique role of the States in our system.”

While the same principles would seemingly apply to the relationship of state and local governments, forces at the state capitol seem to prefer an overbearing centralized government that can solve problems with broad strokes of alleged social justice.

With bills such as SB 922, SB 829, and SB 7 deemed as acceptable modes of governance by the legislative supermajority and the governor, I anticipate a union-backed effort in the future to repeal outright the section of the California Constitution (Article XI, Section 3) that allows cities to govern their own municipal affairs under a charter. It would be an effective way to eliminate another one of the diminishing number of checks and balances that interfere with utopian schemes planned under the benevolent and enlightened one-party state.

Then there is the strange case of Republican Senator Anthony Cannella, who is so proud of undermining local control and raising costs for taxpayers that he used the Senate Republican Caucus communications operation to proclaim his legislative achievement to a gullible press. Here’s a Tweet:

It didn’t go unanswered. I responded with this Tweet:

Senator Cannella may not realize (or may not care) that he represents two cities – Modesto and Merced – that use their charter authority to set their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”). Here is the Modesto policy, set by a 1995 resolution: Modesto Prevailing Wage Policy and Staff Report. Here is the Merced practice: Merced Exempts Rental Housing Preparation from State-Mandated Government Wage Rates (Prevailing Wage). Oh well, sometimes the union lobbyists in Sacramento are a more important constituency than the people back home in the Central Valley.

With the help of Senators Steinberg and Cannella, union lobbyists intend to direct their legislative puppets from Los Angeles and San Francisco to suppress the small and medium-sized cities trying to determine their own financial destinies. To protect union power, these cities must submit to centralized power exercised by the state legislature and Governor Jerry Brown.

In the meantime, the local federalist rebellion continues. In addition to the cities of Temecula and Murrieta, the following California cities are now publicly moving forward on asking their citizens to approve a charter in 2014 (with several more soon to begin public discussion):

Costa Mesa

Outsourcing Back in for Costa MesaOrange County Register (editorial) – February 6, 2013

…passage of Measure V would have made the privatization task easier. But the union outspent Measure V proponents by more than seven-to-one. However, Mr. [Councilman Jim] Righeimer said he hopes a new charter measure will be put on the June 2014 ballot…Within 60 days the council will hold a study session on how to set up the independent committee for the new charter measure.


Escondido Mayor Touts Urban Renewal, Embracing DiversitySan Diego Union-Tribune – February 20, 2013

Delivering his annual State of the City address to nearly 300 residents and business leaders gathered at the city’s arts center… [Mayor Sam] Abed said he also wants the city to take another shot at becoming a charter city, which would increase Escondido’s independence from Sacramento and reduce the cost of some city construction projects.

Moreno Valley

Moreno Valley: City to Explore Becoming Charter City – Riverside Press-Enterprise – February 26, 2013

The Moreno Valley City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 26, unanimously approved establishing a subcommittee that would explore becoming a charter city and appointing two council members to it.

Moreno Valley: Charter City Committee Could Be Created  – Riverside Press-Enterprise – February 25, 2013

The Moreno Valley City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 26, is to follow through on plans to determine whether to become a charter city. The council is set to vote on whether to establish a charter exploratory subcommittee and appoint two council members to it.


Buellton Continues “Home Rule’ Talk – Santa Ynez Valley News – February 7, 2013

The idea of changing Buellton to a “home-rule” city is on hold again after City Council members decided to set up a workshop for more discussion about a draft plan…City Manager John Kunkel said the committee wants voters to be comfortable with the measure and, if the council wants to have a dialogue with unions, there is no rush.

Charting Best Path to Buellton’s Future – Santa Ynez Valley News (editorial) – February 7, 2013

…being a charter city does mean that local elected officials and voters can make more of their own decisions, and are therefore better able to tailor policy to fit specific local needs…Being a charter city also lets local government off the hook for paying a prevailing wage. Labor unions don’t like that possibility…

Arroyo Grande
Arroyo Grande Considering City Charter – – January 28, 2013

The Arroyo Grande City Council has created a committee to explore the idea of becoming a charter city in order to cut costs…Many union members oppose city charters because they allow exemptions from state-mandated prevailing wage agreements. City staff says adopting a charter could save Arroyo Grande $50,000 to $300,000 annually.

Study Under Way to Find Out if Arroyo Grande Should Try to Become a Charter CitySan Luis Obispo Tribune – January 27, 2013

A committee has been convened to study whether Arroyo Grande should try to become a charter city, a move that officials say could save money and give it more local control. The idea, however, faces stiff opposition from local union members…

California cities have two choices about their financial futures: enact a charter as an way to become more cost-efficient, or raise taxes. Guess which choice the unions want?

Kevin Dayton is the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at

Union Watch Highlights

Wisconsin property tax bills fall as Scott Walker’s reforms start to kick in
Editorial, April 17, 2012, Wall Street Journal
The public employee unions and other liberals are confident that Wisconsin voters will turn out Governor Scott Walker in a recall election later this year, but not so fast. That may turn out to be as wrong as some of their other predictions as Badger State taxpayers start to see tangible benefits from Mr. Walker’s reforms—such as the first decline in statewide property taxes in a dozen years. On Monday Mr. Walker’s office released new data that show the property tax bill for the median home fell by 0.4% in 2011, as reported by Wisconsin’s municipalities. Property taxes, which are the state’s largest revenue source and mainly fund K-12 schools, have risen every year since 1998—by 43% overall. The state budget office estimates that the typical homeowner’s bill would be some $700 higher without Mr. Walker’s collective-bargaining overhaul and budget cuts. (read article)

June elections will determine whether state and local governments are responsive to the taxpayers or to the unions
By Roger Hedgecock, April 17, 2012, San Diego Union-Tribune
For decades, public employee unions in state and local government negotiated with the politicians they helped elect to add layer after layer of compensation, benefits and perks. As a result, today the potholes don’t get fixed, the library hours are curtailed, the parks are closed, but the gold-plated pension and health benefits of our “public servants” get more costly every year. The state of Illinois spends 20 percent of its annual budget in addition to the earnings of its state employee retirement system just to keep up with employee retirement benefit costs. In a few years, Illinois estimates that percentage will increase to 50 percent of state revenue. The city of San Diego paid just $48 million in pension contribution in 2000. Last year it was $231 million. In five years, it will be $340 million, or nearly 20 percent of the city budget. This same trend afflicts every state and municipality in the country. (read article)

Court Strikes Down Union-Posting Rule
By Melanie Trottman, April 16, 2012, Wall Street Journal
A federal court struck down a National Labor Relations Board rule that would require employers to post notices informing workers of their right to join a union, a victory for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its South Carolina arm. A federal judge for the U.S. district court in Charleston, S.C., said the board lacks congressional authority to issue the rule, which had been scheduled to take effect on April 30. “As such, the rule is unlawful,” Judge David Norton said in his decision issued Friday, which granted a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The decision contradicted a ruling issued last month by the U.S. district court in Washington, D.C. That court upheld the notice-posting rule but struck down two provisions in it that would have been used to punish companies that don’t comply. The NLRB had no comment on the decision Monday morning. A spokeswoman said late Friday the board was still reviewing the ruling. It’s unclear how the NLRB will proceed with the rule, which has been expected to apply to most private-sector companies in the U.S. (read article)

Cal State faculty ponder strike after fruitless labor negotiations
By Christina Hoag, Apr 16, 2012,
Some 24,000 California State University employees are beginning a two-weeklong vote on whether to authorize their union to declare a strike after 22 months of negotiations failed to yield a new contract. Members of the California Faculty Association, which represents professors, librarians, coaches and counselors across the system’s 23 campuses, start voting Monday and have until April 27 to say whether they authorize the union’s board of directors to call a two-day strike at an unspecified date. “Faculty are angry, they’re fed up,” said Lillian Taiz, president of the association. “They’ve been asked to take a lot of hits while campus presidents are getting 10 percent raises.” Under the “rolling strike” plan, groups of campuses would go out on strike for two days each, one immediately after another. The strike vote comes during a turbulent time for CSU, which has lost $970 million in state funding since 2008. The 400,000-student system has hiked tuition, laid off faculty and slashed admissions, spurring campus protests that have resulted in arrests of unruly demonstrators and shouting matches at board of trustee meetings. (read article)

No hope for Hostess union deal: CEO
By Josh Kosman, April 16, 2012, New York Post
A deal between bankrupt Hostess Brands and its unions that could rescue the maker of Twinkies and Wonder bread before a crucial trial begins tomorrow is not likely, CEO Gregory Rayburn told The Post. Hostess made a last-ditch effort to win support from its unions on April 14 by offering to pony up at least some cash for their pensions, but Rayburn, in an interview with The Post, said he is not hopeful of reaching a deal with the Teamsters and bakery unions. The unions are expected to reject the offer and could come back with a counteroffer today. Absent a deal, a bankruptcy judge will hold a two-day trial to determine if Hostess can scrap its existing collective bargaining agreements. If the union deals are canceled, the likelihood of both a union strike and the liquidation of Hostess increases. “As much as 50 cents of every dollar Hostess Brands contributes goes to pay for pensions for people who worked at other companies that no longer exist and who never worked at Hostess Brands, IBC or any other predecessor of [Hostess],” the company said in its proposal. “Unfortunately, we can no longer afford to carry the pension costs of former competitors who have long since closed their doors and disappeared.” (read article)

California’s Senate Bill 829 is Labor largesse
Editorial, April 15, 2012, San Bernardino Press Enterprise
Expanding a bad law would not make it better. The Legislature does not need to broaden its expensive interference in local public construction contracts. Legislators should instead repeal provisions that cost taxpayers in the name of special-interest pandering. SB 829, by Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, proposes to intrude on local decisions once again in order to benefit labor unions. Legislation last year effectively blocked general law cities and counties from banning union-friendly “project labor agreements” on public construction. The law imposed some less-stringent limits on charter cities, which have greater freedom to set their own rules. Rubio’s bill would in practice curb charter cities’ power to ban project labor agreements, by forbidding charter cities which have such bans from using state funds for any public construction project. Project labor agreements require all contractors — union and nonunion alike — to follow union rules and pay union fees and benefits. Several charter cities, including Oceanside and Fresno, have barred the use of these labor pacts, while San Diego has an initiative on the June ballot that would restrict such agreements.     SB 829’s goal, however, is not better public contracting policy, but a political handout to Democrats’ labor union supporters. Unions like project labor agreements because the deals quash the competitive advantage that nonunion contractors often enjoy. (read article)

A key national test of labor’s power coming this spring in Wisconsin
By Daniel DiSalvo, April 14, 2012, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The recall election of Gov. Scott Walker will be the epicenter of the American political world this spring. Huge sums of money will pour into the Badger State. Some analysts predict that more than $100 million could be spent. Walker is now out in front in the fundraising game, having scooped up almost $13 million. But his lead will evaporate quickly. Public employee unions in more than half the states benefit from “agency shop” laws that require workers covered by collective bargaining agreements – even those who refuse to join the union – to pay an “agency fee” for the benefit of the representation that the union provides. In effect, agency shop laws compel workers to join unions. Public-sector unions also benefit from the steady supply of funds provided by “dues check off” rules, which require governments to withhold union dues from their employees and pay the money directly to their unions (Walker eliminated this in Wisconsin.) This guarantees an abundant and reliable source of cash, sparing unions the need to raise funds. A stable membership and a guar anteed supply of money set public sector unions apart from other interest groups. Most organizations expend significant resources hustling for both. The unions’ remarkable political power stems from this advantage. (read article)

Romney Accuses Obama of Pandering to Big Labor
By Eric Pianin, April 13, 2012, The Fiscal Times
Mitt Romney bashed Rick Santorum  in Wisconsin earlier this month for being too soft on labor unions, and succeeded in knocking his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination out of the primary and then out of the race. As he now  turns his full attention to President Obama and  the general election campaign, the former Massachusetts governor and business man will likely turn up the volume of his anti-union rhetoric as he critiques what he claims are the failures of the administration’s economic and jobs policies. Whether it’s berating the president as a “crony capitalist” for bailing out the U.S. auto industry at the behest of auto workers, speaking out in favor of “right to work” laws or claiming the president stacked the National Labor Relations Board with labor “stooges,” Romney appears determined to burnish  his conservative and pro-business bonafides by challenging organized labor. “I’ve taken on union bosses before,” Romney told Midwestern audiences.  “I’m happy to take them on again.” (read article)

AFL-CIO Urges Senate Democrats to Reject Challenge on Union Vote
By William McQuillen on April 13, 2012, Business Week
The AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, is urging Democratic senators to reject a Republican effort aimed at killing a rule that regulators say will lead to speedier worker elections to form a union. The labor group opposes the proposal by Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, challenging a National Labor Relations Board rule to cut the time between the workers’ request to form a union and the balloting. The rule is set to take effect April 30. The union said lawmakers may vote as soon as next week on Enzi’s resolution to disapprove the labor board standard. “The new NLRB rule makes modest, sensible changes to bring balance to the election process,” William Samuel, director of the AFL-CIO government affairs department, wrote to senators this week. “A vote against the resolution will ensure that the rights of working people to achieve economic security are protected.” Republicans and business groups such as the Washington- based National Association of Manufacturers have said the labor board has created “ambush elections.” (read article)

Democratic Super PACs off to modest 2012 start
Alina Selyukh and Alexander Cohen, April 13, 2012, Chicago Tribune
Fundraising by Democratic “Super PACs” is off to a slow start for the 2012 campaign season, compared with aggressive efforts by Republican groups that plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in fights for congressional seats and the White House. Three major Democratic groups said on Friday they raised a total of about $5.7 million in the first three months of the year, buoyed largely by donations from labor unions and hedge fund managers but far behind rival Republican groups. Majority PAC, focused on preserving Democratic control of the U.S. Senate, received $1.6 million in contributions in the first quarter of 2012, according to financial filings with the Federal Election Commission. House Majority PAC, which aims to help Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives that they lost in 2010, received $1.5 million. American Bridge, a group that does research on rival Republicans, raised $2.6 million together with its non-profit arm. The Democratic groups are working in tandem against several behemoth Republican groups such as American Crossroads, run by Karl Rove, a former top aide to President George W. Bush. (read article)

AFL-CIO Endorses Obama; Gears Up Campaign Volunteer Army
By Carl Horowitz, April 13, 2012, National Legal and Policy Center
On March 13, the federation’s 57-member executive council met in a closed-door session in Orlando, Florida to unanimously endorse Barack Obama for re-election. “We will continue to have disagreements with him (Obama),” said federation President Richard Trumka after the vote. “But we’ve never doubted one thing: We’ve never doubted he’s a friend of working people and he’s the best out there.” In the ensuing weeks, his organization has been putting together the money and muscle to get results. The AFL-CIO is planning to mobilize 400,000 union members for a nationwide blitz to coax support for Democrats in federal, state and local elections. And they’re thinking well past November. National Legal and Policy Center last September described at length the historic marriage between the Democratic Party and the Washington, D.C.-based AFL-CIO, whose 57 unions now represent a combined roughly 12 million workers, and why it can get rocky. The federation wants the president to go all out in support of policies and programs that advance union interests and expand government involvement in the economy. (read article)

AFL-CIO forms a ‘super PAC’ focused on union organization
By Melanie Mason, April 12, 2012, Los Angeles Times
A “super PAC” created by an influential labor organization will focus its efforts on motivating voters on the ground, rather than financing television commercials. “It’s not going to be about FEC deadlines, television ads or the usual super PAC activity. It’s about building a new way for workers to connect,” said Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer for the AFL-CIO, at a news conference Thursday morning detailing the super PAC’s strategy. Unlike past union efforts, the Workers Voices super PAC will be able to reach out to all workers, including nonunion ones. That’s one of the byproducts of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which paved the way for individuals, corporations and unions to give unlimited contributions to independent political committees. (read article)

99% Spring: An Anatomy of Destruction
By Trey Kovacs, April 12, 2012,
The establishment left’s weeklong protest training, deemed the 99% Spring or Shareholder Spring, is an effort to train 100,000 activists in civil disobedience to achieve “social and economic justice” from the 1%. The goal of these left-wing activists is to attain their idea of justice through destruction of America’s social fabric by perpetuating social and economic class warfare. The protesters’ target will be “the shareholder meetings of over forty corporations, including but not limited to Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron.” In order to destroy America’s “unjust” economy, they seek to tarnish the reputations of the very corporations that create jobs Americans need and desperately want. According to the 99% Spring website, its mission is to stop “the deliberate manipulation of our democracy and our economy by a tiny minority in the 1%, by those who amass ever more wealth and power at our expense.” (read article)

Labor movement risks its political clout with campaign to recall Wisconsin Gov. Walker
By Associated Press, April 11, 2012, Washington Post
Unions are facing a make-or-break moment in their campaign to drive Wisconsin’s Republican governor from office. If unions and their Democratic allies prevail in the recall — just over a year after Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation to curb collective bargaining rights for most public workers — it would send a powerful warning to other politicians who might try to limit union rights. Unions also might find it easier to turn out more voters in November for President Barack Obama in this battleground state. A Walker victory would be a stunning setback for organized labor. Unions have experienced mixed results over the past year in trying to beat back efforts in dozens of states to restrict bargaining rights, pass right-to-work laws or limit how unions collect dues. They enjoyed a major victory in November when Ohio voters in a statewide referendum repealed a law limiting collective bargaining rights for the state’s public employees. But they fell short in an earlier recall campaign to wrest control of the Wisconsin Senate from Republicans and suffered a major defeat when Indiana this year became the first state in more than a decade to pass right-to-work legislation. (read article)

Scott Walker recall must be thwarted
By Brian Calle, April 11, 2012, Orange County Register
The importance of thwarting the recall campaign against Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker can not be understated: The Wisconsin showdown arguably is the most consequential election in the country this year. And with the release of recent polling data showing the anti-Walker effort leading, the stakes have become even higher. A Rasmussen poll released April 2 found that a “majority of Wisconsin voters now support the effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.” Fifty-two percent of likely voters polled said they would recall the governor, versus 47 percent wanting to keep Mr. Walker in office. While the election is still nearly two months away, those numbers are still discouraging. If Gov. Walker, who has staked his career on challenging the power of his state’s public employee unions, is removed, public employee unions with substantial influence, even nearly free rein, in other state capitals throughout the United States would be even more emboldened to push their self-serving agendas. (read article)

About the author: Jack Dean is editor of, formed to monitor developments in all three pension spheres nationwide — public employees, corporations and social security. PensionTsunami, like UnionWatch, is a project of the California Public Policy Center. Dean is a former newspaper editor and a past executive director of the Reason Foundation. He has been active in politics for more than three decades and currently serves as president of the Fullerton Association of Concerned Taxpayers.