Union Grip on California's Government Still Stronger than Ever

Edward Ring

Director, Water and Energy Policy

Edward Ring
July 1, 2014

Union Grip on California's Government Still Stronger than Ever

Before anyone gets out the balloons and starts celebrating the Harris vs. Quinn decision too much, step back, sober up, and reflect on the scope of what happened, and where it puts us in this war. To use a WWII analogy, we just won the Battle of Britain. The Luftwaffe no longer dominates the skies over London. That’s significant. This is, perhaps, as Churchill once said, “the end of the beginning.” But from Al Alamein to Stalingrad to the Beaches of Normandy, our ultimate destiny still hangs in the balance.

To carry this metaphor further, California today might be compared to Nazi occupied Europe in 1941, where the possibility of liberation was years in the future, if ever. While across America the forces of freedom celebrate what is indeed a strategic victory, in California, an occupying army continues to build their own 21st century version of Fortress Europa.

To appreciate the undiminished political supremacy public employee unions still have in Sacramento, the State Senate Public Employment and Retirement Committee hearing on June 23 provides a good example. From an anonymous source, we have learned that in this hearing, opponents of seven labor-sponsored bills never had a chance of stopping even one of them. The recent addition of two new pro-union Committee members (President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and incoming pro Tem Kevin De Leon) all but guaranteed the outcome in advance. These bills advance public employee union goals at the significant expense of local governments, their budgets and taxpayers statewide. Examples:

· AB 1611 (Bonta) would make schools file written notice with a union about changes it needs to make to an employee’s schedule, even for something as unpredictable as a flu outbreak. The costs of the state-mandated notification and negotiation requirements will come out of state education funds – money that could have gone to the classroom instead.

· AB 1824 (Rendon) would allow a retired employee to increase a designated beneficiary’s benefits – in violation of the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013. Now starts the gradual undoing of the Act.

· AB 1834 (Williams) would allow 14,000 graduate students working part-time as research assistants at the University of California and California State University to unionize. Students. Working part-time. Unionized. We’re trying to lower the tuition costs for higher education, not raise them even more.

· AB 1550 (Rendon) would add up to 60 more days to an already thorough and lengthy collective bargaining process in schools by effectively ending the right of school districts to implement their “last, best and final offer.” This will add significant costs and further undermine school districts’ abilities to efficiently operate their schools.

· AB 2126 (Bonta) would eliminate the law requiring unions and government agencies to request mediation or arbitration jointly, letting one side or the other file unilaterally, and then require the Public Relations Employee Board to appoint a mediator within five days. There aren’t enough mediators in the state to handle the anticipated increase in requests within that timeframe, which will lead to a backlog and delays and the hiring of private mediators at much higher rates in order to meet the arbitrary timeframe.

Comparing any political movement we don’t like to the bad guys in WWII is a cheap trick. Sorry. But the reality of unions infiltrating government and enabling its drift towards authoritarianism is not a frivolous comparison. Public sector unions run California. They control the outcome of all significant legislation. Their agenda is inherently oriented towards bigger, more expensive, more expansive government, with the interests of government workers inevitably prioritized over the interests of private citizens.

Moreover, government unions are the enablers of cronyism and corporatism. Nearly all of California’s major corporate interests cooperate as junior partners with these unions. And through their pension funds and through their insatiable need to spend beyond their means, California’s government unions partner with powerful and very opportunistic financial interests.

Most tragically, government unions create a privileged class of government workers, granting them levels of compensation and job security that are far beyond our capacity to provide all citizens, and far beyond the ability of taxpayers to subsidize. Within our ranks of public servants, these unions corrupt and embitter the impressionable with poisonous adversarial rhetoric, while protecting the inept and alienating the finest.

Government unions cannot be “bargained” with. Unlike private sector unions, there is no legitimate argument whatsoever for the existence of government unions. At the state and local level, especially in California, they are the primary force behind the erosion of our freedoms and the ebb of our prosperity. They must be eliminated.

Harris vs. Quinn has slowed the advance of government unions. Nothing more. Put away the balloons. Hunker down. There’s going to be a lot more blood, toil, tears and sweat before this is over.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center

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