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Leading Where Members Want To Go
Prop. 75: public employee unions...

[by Jon Coupal] 10/25/05

We have a saying at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association: "We can't lead where our members don't want to go." This is an acknowledgement that support for our work comes from member dues and that affiliation with this taxpayer organization is voluntary. If dues-paying members are not convinced that HJTA is working to advance their interests as taxpayers, they won't be dues paying members for long and the organization will wither. Needless to say, we are motivated to pay close attention to their concerns.

Let's contrast this approach with that of the leadership of our state's public employee unions.

First, it should be noted, California is not a right-to-work state, so paying union dues is mandatory. Sure, government workers can opt out of actual union membership, but they must still pay the same money to the union in the form of an agency shop fee.

Jon Coupal

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go to Coupal index]

Especially galling to some members is that a major portion of their dues go to support the unions' political activities, which are often unrelated to legitimate union business. A prime example is the millions of dollars spent by the California Teachers Association on two recent efforts to qualify initiatives to undo the property tax protections provided by Proposition 13. In fact, the teachers union recently raised dues $180 on each of nearly 350,000 members over the next three years to pay for a campaign to oppose special election ballot measures. The union's opposition to Proposition 75 -- a measure that would require public employee union leaders to get permission from each individual member before dipping into their wallets to support political activity -- is particularly fierce.

Union spokespersons rush to point out that there is already a procedure that allows members to block the use of their money for politics. But it is just that, an inconvenient "procedure" that requires the union member to formally request paperwork that must be filled out and submitted, with a lengthy lag time before it takes affect. Of course choosing to take this action will spotlight the union member as a "malcontent" setting them up for possible retribution and harassment.

As if the current situation isn't absurd enough for public employee union members who find that they are contributing to support a political agenda with which they disagree, this unrestrained political spending has propelled one of the major public employee unions -- again the teachers -- to the brink of bankruptcy.

In a document submitted to the U.S. District Court in San Jose in response to a suit filed by teachers disgruntled over the dues increase, union controller Carlos Mareno states that the dues increase was necessary to "maintain fiscal solvency." According to Mareno, the CTA has already spent on the initiative campaign the equivalent of what the temporary dues increase would bring over three years.

The teachers union has already spent $50 million on the November special election, borrowed an additional $37 million, and is attempting to get another loan of $40 million, all in the name of politics. If the union goes bankrupt as the controller fears, it will be hard pressed to meet the legitimate needs of its members for collective bargaining and benefits.

Regardless of how this solvency question is resolved for the teachers union -- and other government worker unions have made major investments in politics this year -- the issue remains, should union members be "forced" to contribute?

There are union supporters who say that requiring public employee union leaders to get permission to take members' money for politics is unfair because the same rules do not apply to corporations who use money for political activity without checking with stockholders. However, this is comparing apples and oranges. Corporations have an adversarial relationship with private sector unions, not government employee unions. Proposition 75 has no impact on private sector unions.

Unless Proposition 75 passes, government worker union leaders are likely to continue to spend their members' money recklessly and unabated. However, in response to criticism they argue that the reforms provided by Proposition 75 are unnecessary because they have the unquestioned support of their members. If it is true that they are leading where their members want to follow, then Proposition 75 will do no harm; union members will overwhelmingly sign off to continue to allow their paychecks to be tapped for political activity. But if Proposition 75 passes, one thing is certain, the union bosses will be more responsive to those they claim to represent. CRO

Jon Coupal is an attorney and President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

copyright 2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association



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