Another attack on public-employee unions


Big-business and conservative interests have been trying to years to find a way to undermine the political clout of organized labor, particularly unions like the teachers and nurses, who have played a huge role in progressive campaigns. And now there's a new tactic.

The anti-union folks have gone to court to try to do what they haven't been able to do in the legislative arena: take away the ability of public-employee unions to use membership dues for political campaigns:

In a scarcely-noticed lawsuit filed Monday in federal district court in Los Angeles, a conservative nonprofit, the Center for Individual Rights, claims that California's system for collecting union dues from government employees abridges free speech safeguards by compelling employees to subsidize union political advocacy and activities with which they disagree.

Peter Scheer, who runs the California First Amendment Coalition, notes that current law is on the side of the unions -- but five Supreme Court justices have been critical of the prevailing case law.

And if they prevail? Public employee unions, not just in California but across the country, would lose the bulk of their dues funding-and with it, the ability to wield decisive political influence in state and local governments everywhere. That is a big deal.

Yep. It's a big deal. It could do what corporate America has been trying to do for years -- eliminate the one remaining power base with the money to challenge right-wing efforts. If this gets all the way to the Supremes, it will be a few years away, but we need to keep an eye on it.


Public employees and the 1%-ers are the only people left in the world who still have defined-benefit pension plans. The rest of us have defined-contribution plans, meaning your pension pays whatever the investments pay, and no more.

California public-school teachers are guaranteed a 7% annual return on their pensions, and it is compounded annually. The stock market (US, DJIA) rose 0% in 2000-2010. But retired teachers in California got the 7% compounded return by law.

And at this point, pension costs are eating more than 25% of money put into our schools. A much larger share of those funds should be going into the classroom.

Retired teachers need decent pensions, for sure. But they should be operating under defined-contribution plans like the rest of us.

Yes, public-employees have the right to unionize. But they have too many politicians in their pocket.

Posted by Troll The XIV on May. 02, 2013 @ 9:53 am

Once upon a time, California's system of education was the crown jewel of the nation. No other state could compare. Then came Prop 13, followed by the Reagan tax cuts and other giveaways to the wealthy. That's when the system began to decline. Sling all the mud you want at teachers, but you're barking up the wrong tree. As long as the rich resist paying their fair share of taxes, the system of education in California will continue its long, slow descent...until only the uber-wealthy can afford it. If you care about education, best get your priorities straight.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:16 am

1) Property tax revenues have grown by an average of 7% per annum since Prop 13 passed. That's hardly a low figure.

2) CA simply raised it's rates on income tax and sales tax to compensate - both are the highest in the land

3) Even where the ad valoren rate is low, the assessed value is so much higher in CA that the revenue take is still massive.

Noper, CCSF screwed up all on it's ownsome.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:39 am

The boom in prison building has diminished the percentage of total funds available for higher education. Read on:

"It’s easy to imagine a scenario where, rather than expanding to meet new demand, universities built to educate the public, at public expense, begin to go under.

"Two specific developments in post-Reagan California help to explain why this is happening: in 1978 California passed the infamous Proposition 13, greatly restricting the state’s capacity to raise revenue through property taxes; and in the 1980s it began one of the great prison-building booms of our time, or what historian Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls the “Golden Gulag,” expanding the incarcerated population in California by 500 percent between 1982 and 2000. While Proposition 13 dramatically limited the total revenue in the state‘s coffers, the prison boom diminished the percentage of total funds available for higher education. The portion of the shrinking general fund that could go to expanding public institutional capacity has decreased from around 17 to 10 percent since the late 1970s. For every $1,000 of personal income in California, the state invested only $7.71 for higher education in 2008, about 40 percent below the $12.86 invested as late as 1980.

"If the mathematics are simple, the policy implications are complex. What has succeeded the Master Plan is no plan; instead of committing to make room for all students, the state now educates only those it has room for."

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:37 am

of prop 13?

Politicians choose to spend millions more on prisons and it's prop 13 holding back spending on schools?

Posted by Matlock on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:43 pm

Unions are not really capable of challenging right wing efforts, given the universal deterioration of union power over the past 30 years. Perhaps the reason why unions have been unable to arrest the decline is because they don't have any organic connection to their memberships or to the "working class" broadly construed.

Given that the status quo implies loss and defeat, would be to such a bad thing to require the labor hierarchy to have to make themselves relevant and have to appeal to the membership in terms the membership finds salient in order to move a political agenda?

When people get paid to move an agenda and the agenda moves exclusively in a direction that favors their opponents, what's supposed to happen to those who are getting paid? Continued insulation from accountability to the membership might not be the best answer.

Posted by marcos on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:06 am

we have massive deficits at every level of government from federal to city. These greedy bastards want their gold-plated pensions and they don't care how many services get cut as long as they're in hog heaven.

Eventually they will get what is coming to them, and good riddance.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:10 am

The Reagan tax cuts were the beginning of the erosion of this society. But you prefer to blame teachers. Must be nice to have an easy scapegoat.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:19 am

them have done as badly as CCSF, so other factors are at work.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:37 am

Congress adopted two budgets that cut funds for the CSU system and UC system by over $2 billion. The budget that was passed cut higher education by more than $911 million in the General Fund. This is following upon years of cuts and tuition hikes at both UC and CSU. Tuition has increased by about $1.8 billion over the past two fiscal years. The result? They've closed libraries on weekends, cut classes, laid off professors. It's harder for students to get into the classes they need to gradutate, and when they do, and if they are lucky enough to secure a spot, the classes are overcrowded. Face facts: The quality of education in this state has declined markedly, and at every level from K-12 to higher education.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:07 am

mostly white and with few illegals, to it's situation now as a majority non-white State where huge numbers of kids don't even speak English at home.

Throw in pension and healthcare benefits for teachers and bureaucrats that are out of control, and you have a recipe for failure.

Maybe we need to consider scrapping public education altogether, and issue vouchers to parents to help them buy tuition at private schools and colleges.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:17 am

Don't engage in any research to figure out how we got in this mess. Don't use your head at all, except to bury it to in the sand. Vouchers will solve everything. No doubt.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:50 am

Things that have added billions to the budget are not to blame, you must use your head to understand that and do real research.

Posted by Matlock on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:49 pm

Don't forget that Reagan authorized the Illegal Immigrant Amnesty program, which was aimed at destroying the power of unions by flooding the market with cheaper, non-union labor.

Teachers don't have a choice in joining a union. It is part of their hiring requirement, as is the $100 per month they are required to pay the union for their political lobbying. I'm sure that the SEIU members pony up plenty so Chris Daly can make his $100K+ as a lobbyist.

Public sector unions work for the public - not for private enterprises or corporations. All public sectors workers should be subject to Civil Service rules, and should eliminate the need for public sector unions.

And Govt defined benefit programs need to be phased out, as they are not economically sustainable. It should coincide with other pension changes, including to Social Security. For example, if a teacher works 15 years as a teacher, and 15 years in the private sector, paying into SSN, they don't get both benefits that they earned. Yet a cop who retires from SF with 90%+ of salary plus 100% health care can go back to work, still get retirement benefits, and pull a full salary.

Posted by Richmondman on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:49 am

"Statistical analysis of state-level data shows that immigrants expand the economy’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization. This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker. At the same time, evidence is scant that immigrants diminish the employment opportunities of U.S.-born workers."

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:25 am

You are right in this regard Lower wages stimulates investment. Illigal immigrants increase investment in industries where illegals are a big factor - so they are the ones who benefit - no higher-wage demanding citizens - who require Worker's Comp, Social Security and payroll taxes. Other manufacturing jobs have gone to China, where investment is greater because wages are even lower (no unions, to say the least), and there is no environmental or worker protection regulations that add costs.

Posted by Richmondman on May. 02, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

Public employee unions and their elected reps create more make work jobs and thus more public employee union members.

Over the years the tax base grows and yet there are more and more of these parasites beyond the basic need for teachers and cops.

Posted by Matlock on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:47 pm

I'm not blaming teachers for anything. I know many teachers, I work with them. They have a tough job and get few kudos from parents or administrators.

Their pensions (guaranteed 7% annually returns) are completely out of line with reality, that's all I'm saying.

And the rising pension costs are draining money from the classroom

Posted by Troll The XIV on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:44 am

When you get lifelong health cover for working just five years for the city, something is very, very wrong.

We need to outsource some of these guys.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:54 am

You need to distinguish between private-sector unions and public-sector unions.

Workers & management at Ford, for example, have to work hand-in-hand to some extent because they all know that if the company goes down, so do all of them.

Public-sector workers don't care about city/state finances, or about how much tax funds go to actual services. State/city pensions are hugely underfunded, and services get cut every year to keep the pensions afloat.

But public-sector workers don't care. Their thinking: "Kick the can down the road, I'll be dead before it all implodes."

Posted by Troll The XIV on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:50 am

The Bay Guardian writes about big business interests attacking the unions, but didn't the Bay Guardian itself refuse to bargain with its writers when they attempted to unionize years ago?

Posted by Kristin on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:02 am

Seems to be the message.

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 11:14 am

Or earlier. Not one person who currently runs this operation was around then, and many of us were either unborn or in grade school.

Posted by tim on May. 02, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

I keep forgetting that Bruce Brugmann is a very young man and probably was a mere toddler at the time. What kind of an impact could a man like Cesar Chavez have on someone who was so young?

Posted by Kristin on May. 02, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

You changed that as soon as you could, right?

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 12:08 am

on them.

In the early 90's Pete Wilson raised taxes on all sorts of things, including newspapers.

The Guardian's usual position is that taxes are good, in this case they went into hysterics over the tax, spinning all sorts of comical theories and complaining that it was all so unfair.

These views are typical of true believers who are special butterflies.

The Guardian is for citizen involvement unless it is citizen involvement in the SFMTA's parking scheme.

The Guardian is for the constitution, they cheer when people bring laws against the Az. immigration law, they complain that the fed is upsetting their own local immigration policy.


Tim and the gang are just opportunists, what works this very minute for them.

Posted by Matlock on May. 04, 2013 @ 10:31 am

I think the lawsuit has a pretty good chance of success after the Supreme Court's decision in Knox v. SEIU last term.

And your article is incomplete. The lawsuit was filed by a bunch of teachers against the California Teachers Association and several local teachers' unions. The teachers don't want to have to pay for political causes and positions (like the stupid seniority system) that they don't believe in.

Posted by The Commish on May. 02, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

For wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I don't want to pay taxes for the giant prison complex in California, because I don't believe in them, but I don't get that choice. We elect representatives who decide where our tax money goes. Union members elect representatives who decide where the dues money goes. There is corruption in both systems. That's democracy.

Posted by tim on May. 02, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

You need to read the complaint. The teachers who are plaintiffs in the suit are not members of the union. They don't want to be. But they still have to pay dues they don't want to pay.

Posted by The Commish on May. 02, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

You could have fooled me.

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 12:10 am

It's not like the leaders get there by building an army and overthrowing the existing leadership. They get there b/c they got more votes than others in what is called an election (something you don't seem to be familiar with) in which the members of the union chose them.

So yes unions are democratic and yes you were fooled - something that apparently happens all the time to you.

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 11:18 pm

paid flunkies who do nothing but work on politics. Much of it having little to do with the union itself, just general tax and spend idiocy.

The rank and file never get to vote on these people and their agenda.

Posted by Matlock on May. 06, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

People who aren't union members still have to pay, otherwise the nonunion folks would get union-won wages and benefits without paying for the union's support. Republicans who don't want to be Democrats still have to pay for Obamacare.

Posted by tim on May. 02, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

The dues are broken out. The non-union folks still have to pay the portion of dues relating to collective bargaining, but they don't have to pay the portion that goes to political activity.

California's system is problematic if the allegations in the complaint are true. Non-union teachers need to opt-out of the political dues part and the burden is on them to show the portion of the dues going to collective bargaining isn't really bleeding over into political activity.

It seems especially problematic w/r/t teachers. Collective bargaining might cover more than just wages and benefits. They've secured a bunch of work rules like early tenure and seniority rights that a lot of them don't want -- and were likely secured through political means.

Posted by The Commish on May. 02, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

I worked at a place while going to college where the union took the side of a person everyone(all forced union members) hated, we all had to do the work this asshole never bothered to do, which was not all that much work.

He was a union cheerleader, and utterly useless on every level. So he was getting union wages because he was a union member, and taking advantage of actual productive non members who wanted him gone.

Posted by Matlock on May. 02, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

are trying to legislate from the bench?

Is this intended as irony from Tim? Or just a total lack of awareness?

Posted by Matlock on May. 02, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

Why would Tim's comments be ironic? Are you saying liberals can't point out when the rightwing tries to use its judges to get what it can't get via elections - for ex in the 2000 Gore - Bush election (which apparently now Sandra Day O'Connor may think her going along with it was a mistake)?

The nutty rightwing doesn't hide the fact that it wants to use the judges to get what it may not get via elections. Surely this isn't news to you.

Your comment makes no sense other than in effect telling Tim to just STFU which you certainly can do here (it apparently is even encouraged) but it's a rather lame - real lame argument you got there.

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 11:32 pm

legislate from the bench, when that tactic is quite common on the left.

To the far right and left the constitution is "living document" up for a vote when it works for them, the constitution set in stone when it works out for them.

Posted by Matlock on May. 05, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

Don't be surprised to see the non-union candidate win the LA mayoral election. Citizens are waking up...

Posted by Guest on May. 02, 2013 @ 10:32 pm

Instead of putting out bullshit, why don't you make a real argument with facts that backs up that argument instead of just showing how easy it is for powerful forces to manipulate you?

Posted by Guest on May. 03, 2013 @ 11:38 pm

I am clear on the unfunded liabilities on both the state and city/county level.

I don't have to rely on labor-left newspapers to inform me.

The progressive fairy tale that there are no ramifications to all of these unfunded pension and health care promises is not fooling everyone.

Posted by Guest on May. 10, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

One look at the endorsement pages of each of them shows that they are both union-backed candidates. The non-union candidate was Kevin James, and he got creamed.

Posted by Greg on May. 04, 2013 @ 9:11 am

See campaign funding. She will lose.

Posted by Guest on May. 10, 2013 @ 10:13 pm