Special election initiative could affect political sway of unions

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This story is the second in a three-part series covering key reform measures on the Nov. 8 special election ballot. The cost of the election to date is approximately $80 million.

A proposition on the Nov. 8 special election ballot would make public labor union political contributions subject to individual member approval and government review, and could potentially restructure the collective bargaining process.

Proposition 75 would require public labor unions to get consent from each union member to use their dues for political purposes.

If passed, the proposition would also require unions to report all political contributions to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which was established in 1974 to oversee and regulate financial issues like campaign spending and financial conflicts of interest.

Opponents of Proposition 75, including many union leaders, are outraged at what many describe as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s direct attack on public labor unions. Unions like the California Faculty Association have been public in their opposition.

James David Ballard, president of the CSUN chapter of the California Faculty Association, said this initiative seems like an uncalled-for restriction on the union’s ability to politically advocate for a cause or a candidate.

“It is a restriction on free speech,” Ballard said.

CFA currently takes 0.007 percent of a faculty member’s salary for union fees. This is required by state law, and is used to represent faculty in bargaining issues, contract negotiations and campus issues.

There is a secondary 0.004 percent, which is an optional amount, taken for political advocacy. Members must provide written consent for this in order for it to be taken from their paycheck. The proposition does not specify which of the two funds the initiative will affect.

“This is one of the problems with these cleverly written propositions with hidden agendas,” Ballard said.

Tom Hogen-Esch, political science professor and member of the CFA, said that if this measure was to pass it could create major problems for public unions.

“If Proposition 75 were to pass, it would have a devastating impact on the ability of public union members to organize and project their political power,” Hogen-Esch said.

Supporters of the initiative refer to the proposition as the paycheck protection act. The proposition is one of three the governor supported as part of his year of reform agenda.

Another initiative supported by the governor is Proposition 76, which would control state spending through a spending cap. The proposition is referred to by supporters as the “California Live Within Our Means Act.”

The third, Proposition 77, would turn over the drawing of legislative districts to a non-partisan panel of three retired judges.

Matt Gerred, chair of the CSUN chapter of the College Republicans, said Proposition 75 is a way to put flexibility back into the unions.

“Many members have had their money used for political practices they don’t agree with, and that’s unfair,” Gerred said.

Last spring the governor stated his desire to change government employees’ pensions. He said pensions in California were hindering the state’s budget, and he wanted to change them from defined contribution plans to 401(k)-style retirement plans. In this type of plan, employees and employers invest in a tax-deferred account, and then the employee collects the returns of the investment.

The governor backed off the issue in April.

Public unions placed ads in heavy rotation, which some say forced the governor into retracting because of his decline in approval ratings.

Organizations like the Californians for Paycheck Protection group think it is unfair fair for powerful and politically connected union leaders to make decisions for hundreds of thousands of public employees.

Dorena Knepper, director of governmental affairs at CSUN, said she could see how the business community could view the unions as obstructionists.

“If unions are too active and take anti-business positions, the economy declines, and unemployment rises,” Knepper said.

Unions have said this initiative could have not been an issue if big money corporations were also going to be subject to the same rules.

Ballard said he thinks that even if the proposition were to pass through the voters, it would likely be disputed in court.

“Who benefits if unions have to do this, and ultimately, who is silenced?” Ballard said. “That’s the question voters have to ask themselves.”

Connie Llanos can be reached at connie.llanos.600@csun.edu.