Attack ads and allegations of Sacramento power grabs will come to a head with today’s special election, as opponents and supporters of Proposition 75 continue campaigning for an initiative that could affect public employee unions.
The so-called Paycheck Protection initiative is one of four key reform initiatives Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supported on today’s special election ballot.
If passed, Proposition 75 would require that public employee unions receive annual written consent from its members before using their union dues on political fees and contributions. The measure would require unions to keep copies of the forms and detailed records of the funds received, as well as their political expenditures, according to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Opponents of the measure include the California Teachers Association, the California Faculty Association and the United Nurses Association of California, among others.
The main argument against the proposition is based on how it is being publicized, according to Frank Wells, CTA communications specialist, who added that proponents of 75 are trying to sell it as workers’ rights, but that employees already have the right by law.
Paul Markowitz, independent-study middle school teacher and co-president of the Las Virgenes Educators Association, said so much of how individual schoolteachers’ jobs are done is dependent on what goes on in Sacramento. To deal with major political issues, teachers have to rely on their state affiliate, or union, he said.
“Proposition 75 is a horrendous smoke screen for the governor to change the power structure in Sacramento,” he said.
Markowitz said the strength of the political contributions is not based on the amount each individual gives, but on the amount collected by the organization as a whole.
“It is only when you multiply that by the 330,000 members of CTA that it becomes a real number,” Markowitz said.
Shirley Svorny, chair of the Economics Department at CSUN, said she believes public employee unions in California already have too much power throughout the state.
“There is no one watching (unions), and there is no accountability,” Svorny said. “I’d like to see a budget of what they do with their money.”
As soon as a member joins the union, he or she can opt out of the political contributions by simply filling out specific section of paperwork provided, Markowitz said. If employees change their mind after that, they can write a letter or make a phone call to their local chapter to request that their funds no longer be used for political purposes, he said.
Markowitz said out of 650 teachers in the Las Virgenes district, only one or two have opted out.
The process of opting out of political contributions for public union was legally awarded in 1988. The Communications Workers v. Beck Supreme Court decision made it illegal to force a union member to contribute to political causes.
Svorny said that when she opted out of the union political contributions dues, she had to pay agency fees instead of union dues. She also said she had to give up her right to vote on any union issues.
Public employees like Svorny pay these agency fees to help cover labor leaders’ costs of the collective bargaining that sets pay and benefits for all.
“Right now, I withhold money for political causes, and I have to (pay) the agency fee, but I can’t vote,” Svorny said.
Svorny said she was very upset about the Proposition 76 rally that took place Nov. 2 on the Matador Bookstore Lawn. The California Faculty Association, with entertainment provided by Associated Students Student Productions and Campus Entertainment, organized the rally. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America along with Cesar Chavez, gave a speech at the event.
“How do you think they paid for that?” Svorny said.
She said not every member of the CFA, or the students on the CSUN campus, were in agreement with the political agenda of the rally. Svorny said there was no discussion about the rally and because the CFA is supposed to represent the entire faculty, it was a disrespectful act toward some professors’ viewpoints.
Earlier this month, CTA requested county prosecutors to investigate the Yes on 75 campaign for sending 90,000 e-mails to teachers from school e-mail addresses. This act was a criminal violation of using school grounds for political campaigning, they contended. According to the CTA website, the union is pursuing further legal action.
UFW’s Huerta said at the rally that she has been actively campaigning against Gov. Schwarzenegger’s reform initiatives on today’s ballot.
“The whole reason (for propositions) is to weaken the working-people’s political voice,” she said.
Shum Preston, spokesperson for the California Nurses Association, said public union employees should be more afraid of their political preferences becoming public record.
“These legal documents would become available for public inspection, and in more conservative areas, that might be intimidating for many public employees,” Preston said.
Proposition 75 is not the first initiative that has attempted to change the union dues process. A 1988 proposition, also referred to as a Paycheck Protection initiative, was voted down 53 to 47 percent.
The measure would have required all unions to obtain annual written member consent before using dues for political purposes as opposed to just public unions.
Connie Llanos can be reached at email@example.com.