California Voters Won’t Allow Union Members to Control Dues Spending

Published December 1, 2005

California voters on November 8 terminated all four of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s key initiatives to reform state government, including Proposition 75, a measure that would have required labor unions to obtain employees’ permission before spending dues for political purposes.

The other measures would have limited growth in state spending, increased the time needed for public school teachers to receive tenure protection, and taken legislative redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers and placed it in the hands of a panel of judges.

Union Members Stymied

Supporters of Prop 75 called it “paycheck protection” and said the issue was one of fairness, arguing employees should not have money forcibly taken from them to promote causes they oppose. Fiscal conservatives have long criticized labor unions, particularly those representing government employees, for using members’ dues to influence lawmakers to boost state and local spending.

In testimony before California lawmakers who had called a September 27 hearing on Prop 75, Sgt. Lon Jacobs of the San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department said, “The only thing Prop 75 will do is give me, the union member, the right to decide where my money goes. Do I want my money to go to things I am vehemently opposed to?”

As things stand, union leaders can easily take dues from members and spend the money on whatever political cause they like, even if individual union members oppose the political cause the union supports. Jacobs said it is extremely difficult for individual union members to stop the practice.

Union leaders portrayed Prop 75 as an attempt to silence unions.

Vote Was Close

Prop 75 fared the best of the four initiatives, winning 47 percent of the vote.

“Prop 75 was leading most of the way through the night,” said Sally Pipes, president of the Pacific Research Institute, which supported the initiative. “It was only when Los Angeles County came in that it fell behind. The Los Angeles Unified School District is huge and very influential there.”

Pipes said the measure also lost in San Francisco and other big urban areas, which are Democrat and union strongholds. Outside the major urban areas, the proposition did well.

“When you think about the fact our opponents outspent our side nearly 20 to 1, they should have won 70 to 30 percent,” Pipes said. “Considering the little money the pro-75 people had, they did very well. The result is positive in that it shows that with more work and money, this could be a positive move, to bring such an initiative to the fore in the next few years.”

Teacher Union Gloats

The California Teachers Association (CTA), with more than 335,000 members, proclaimed on its Web site the morning after the election, “Victory! CTA Defeats Props. 74, 75, 76.”

The CTA trumpeted its power in an announcement the day before the election: “Thousands of teachers determined to inform voters about the dangers of the governor’s special election initiatives surpassed their goal this weekend of reaching 1 million voters, announced the 335,000-member California Teachers Association today.”

The announcement added, “Thousands of teachers have been volunteering after school and on the weekends in locations across California telephoning voters since September. Hundreds more will continue calling voters through Election Night.”

Valuable Attention

David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation, which studies union activity around the country, said, “I’m not a big fan of ‘paycheck protection.’ I think the case for it is overblown. At the same time, I value the attention it draws to this issue.”

Denholm added, “The paycheck protection campaign is of value because it makes the public aware that the enormous amounts of money the public sector unions spend on politics don’t necessarily reflect the beliefs of government workers. These campaigns also help make public employees who are union members aware of the extent to which their dues are being used for politics without their knowledge or consent.”

Steve Stanek ([email protected]) is managing editor of Budget & Tax News.