Public Unions

Awaiting Court Ruling, California Unions Appear Surprisingly Impotent

California unions and their allied politicians need to learn to respect the rights of California's government workers.

|

California's public-sector unions are so accustomed to getting their way in the state Capitol that it's almost entertaining watching them respond to a coming U.S. Supreme Court decision that is likely to slash their political and economic power. They are sponsoring a variety of bills designed to mute that decision, but there's surprisingly little they can actually accomplish.

In the Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees case, the court is deciding whether public employees in non-right-to-work states such as California may opt out of paying dues even for collective-bargaining purposes. Since 1977, workers have been allowed to withhold dues for a union's direct political activities, but not for anything related to negotiating their contracts. The case could spell the end to mandatory unionization in the public sector.

Last year, the state passed a new law granting unions the right to provide orientation seminars at the workplace, where they can convince—some say pressure—employees to join the union. That was designed to minimize the impact of Janus. Unions have also been sending out membership applications with so-called "trap language," which traps workers into paying union dues even if the Supreme Court ultimately decides that they are not required to do so.

This year, the legislature is at it again. Assembly Concurrent Resolution 185, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Los Angeles), mentions the Janus case and "recognizes unions and their tireless efforts to represent workers across all industries, to educate membership and encourage their full participation in society, and to strengthen the labor movement as a fundamental element of a healthy democracy."

Note that the measure is a resolution—one of those symbolic gestures that allow lawmakers to make a point, but has no binding effect. It's the latest show of impotence by usually muscular public-sector unions. In reality, the legislature can do little more than posture in the face of a potential Supreme Court ruling that has far more weight than anything that comes out of Sacramento.

Lawmakers are indeed proposing some measures that are more substantive than ACR 185, but even those are limited in scope. For instance, Assembly Bill 2154 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) would expand union members' "release time" to allow for recruitment efforts—all on the taxpayers' dime.

If passed, the bill represents an infuriating misuse of taxpayer money. Why should any state employee have paid time off to engage in activities that benefit any type of private organization, let alone those that lobby the legislature? Nevertheless, its scope is limited. If the Supreme Court tosses out mandatory union payments, these union organizers would still have to gain the consent of the employees before diverting funds from their paychecks.

Unions also are crafting bills that would shield "union members' contact information from the public to make it harder for anti-union groups to reach them." That's ironic given that the unions this year are backing a bill that would require the state to hand over the private information of non-union workers in the private home-care industry to unions as a means to help unions organize those workers.

Another likely bill would allow "unions to charge non-members who use services such as arbitration or a labor representative to help them through a disciplinary process," according to the publication. That's a direct response to the Janus case. Furthermore, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra provided a friend-of-the-court brief in the Janus case arguing against any change in the current system, which was established by that 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

Becerra explained his position in a recent San Diego Union-Tribune column.

"My fellow state leaders and I know that having strong and effective unions on the other side of the bargaining table can help reduce costly strikes and keep public services running," he said. By better understanding workers' needs, Becerra argued, "we can address them proactively, before a grievance turns into a strike. It is that stability that has helped California become the sixth-largest economy in the world."

This is pabulum, of course. Even the idea that unions sit on "the other side of the bargaining table" from elected officials is ludicrous. In reality, the state's public-sector unions bargain with government officials who also are members of unions. The ultimate decisions are typically made by politicians who were elected with the muscle of these unions.

And the idea that California's prosperity is due to union influence is even more ridiculous. The operative word here would be "despite." Public-sector unions' extreme influence in the state Legislature has led to grossly underfunded pension systems and cutbacks and crowd-outs in government services as localities have to shave costs to pay for growing pension debt. Outsized union power also has made it impossible to secure necessary reforms in schools and other agencies.

Here again we see our state Democratic officials using their official positions on behalf of these powerful special-interest groups. It's unsettling, but ultimately means little. The California Attorney General's Office has no influence over the nation's highest court. Even if these bills become law, they simply give unions additional privileges to lobby for members. If the court rules as expected, however, public employees will still need to give their consent.

That's the core issue in Janus. Illinois municipal worker Mark Janus argues—correctly, I believe—that it's a violation of the First Amendment to force him to pay dues to an organization that he does not support. The argument is that all things a union does are inherently political. For instance, if unions achieve unsustainable pension benefits at the bargaining table, such benefits mean that fewer public funds are available for other priorities. Shouldn't we all be free to choose?

A union official interviewed by CalMatters said a decision for Mark Janus could reduce union membership in California by 5 percent to 30 percent. That would be a large hit for them, but the government isn't supposed to protect the financial interests of private groups. It is supposed to protect the rights of the citizenry. Some unions have taken a constructive approach by preparing to improve their outreach efforts. That should be the model rather than passing these unfair bills.

Indeed, the freedom of association—as opposed to compelled payments—can bolster the rights of workers and encourage reforms that are best for union organizations. That's the American way. Instead of fighting it with nettlesome but impotent measures to undermine the high court, California unions and their allied politicians need to learn to respect the rights of California's government workers.

This column was first published by the California Policy Center.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

NEXT: Movie Review: Tomb Raider

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Since 1977, workers have been allowed to withhold dues for a union’s direct political activities, but not for anything related to negotiating their contracts.
    Lobbying and electioneering is negotiating.

    1. my buddy’s step-sister makes $81 /hr on the computer . She has been unemployed for ten months but last month her pay check was $18138 just working on the computer for a few hours. take a look at the site here http://www.richdeck.com

    2. So is bribery, extortion and kickbacks to get Jobs for the Boys

    3. Begin winning $90/hourly to work online from your home for couple of hours every day… Get customary installment on a week after week premise… All you require is a PC, web association and a litte extra time…

      Read more here…….. http://www.startonlinejob.com

  2. I want to thank the lefties for pushing America so far that more Americans woke up to the nightmare that is socialism and started to do things about it.

    Standing up strong for the Constitution is one new trend. Emasculating public unions is another. Countering the PC Principals has been the great to watch in 2017 and 2018 too.

  3. A union official interviewed by CalMatters said a decision for Mark Janus could reduce union membership in California by 5 percent to 30 percent.

    I bet it’s more like half. The unions will of course illustrate their childishness by retaliating against the first few dropouts, offending the fence sitters and inviting a few lawsuits, and when they lose those, the trickle will turn to a flood. I bet they lose half their membership within three years.

    1. When the unions lose members, I wonder if the unions will jack up their dues to try to keep their funding at or near current levels, leading to more defections.

      I look forward to watching their slow death and watch them get more and more desperate.

      1. “When the unions lose members, I wonder if the unions will jack up their dues to try to keep their funding at or near current levels, leading to more defections.”

        The irony of unions being forced to learn how markets work…

    2. I read that the Teachers’ union lost 2/3 of its subjects when Walker managed to end mandatory dues.

      -jcr

      1. Yes, and several local were so heavily affected that they were forced to disband.

  4. I sure hope this case goes well. If it does, it could literally be one of the biggest reforms in government finance in decades. In a lot of areas unions will surely lose MASSIVE proportions of their members, hence much their slush money, hence much of their influence. This will probably ultimately result in more reasonable negotiations, and more sane benefits which might actually be sustainable.

    We’ll see.

  5. Will they be excused from negotiating on behalf of non-members?

    1. The unions themselves lobbied for the rules that “require” them to negotiate on behalf of non-members. I have little sympathy when they now complain about the consequences of rules that they forced down everyone else’s throats.

      1. This is correct. The hypocrisy is that unions wanted free riders because it actually increases their power. Now they point it out as if it is an unwanted cost.

  6. tireless efforts to represent workers

    And by “represent”, he means “skim their paychecks to buy hookers and blow for mobsters and politicians.”

    -jcr

  7. “My fellow state leaders and I know that having strong and effective unions on the other side of the bargaining table can help reduce costly strikes and keep public services running,”

    I liked the veiled threats, from the attorney general no less. People are starting to wake up to the fact that public sector unions are nothing more than a protection racket for Democrats.

    1. Good point, I didn’t read it that way at first glance but you’re absolutely correct. Will we see some ‘costly strikes’ in the near future as retaliation and an attempt to say ‘see, we told you Unions were awesome’ even while the direct cause will be…Unions?

    2. “having strong and effective unions on the other side of the bargaining table can help reduce costly strikes”

      Unions… reduce strikes? Um, that’s not how this works.

  8. Public sector unions are about to be caged and required to know their place.
    Can’t wait, it’s long overdue.
    Once again I give thanks to President Trump for Neil Gorsuch
    If that fucking evil cow had been elected, well, anyone can fill in the rest…


  9. The case could spell the end to mandatory unionization in the public sector.

    Which is why this might end up being buried deeper than Jimmy Hoffa.


    1. This year, the legislature is at it again. Assembly Concurrent Resolution 185, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Los Angeles), mentions the Janus case and “recognizes unions and their tireless efforts to represent workers across all industries, to educate membership and encourage their full participation in society, and to strengthen the labor movement as a fundamental element of a healthy democracy.”

      How can one say that the ‘labor movement’ is a fundamental element of a healthy democracy? Honestly?

      1. Because he’s been honestly bought and paid for, of course. You’ve got to respect a politician who stays bought – that’s real integrity.

        1. I guess maybe Gipson thinks that most people aren’t labor, therefore labor needs to be protected in a democratic system since…most people don’t work…so…the welfare state…is what’s the destroying their labor movement? But they’re in California so…

          AHH, MY BRAIN HURTS!

  10. The SC needs to make public sector unions illegal.

    1. That’s not exactly a libertarian position

  11. Can you say, “public sector unions bad; private sector unions good”?

  12. i am happy and i want to share that My PREVIOUS month’s on-line financial gain is $6500. i am currently ready to fulfill my dreams simply and reside home with my family additionally. I work just for two hours on a daily basis. everybody will use this home profit system by this link.

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.Jobpost3.tk

  13. Last century’s illiterate goonions are going to blink as they realize that communist spoiler votes no longer pass and enforce the force-initiating laws they worship. The Janus-faced looterati of the Kleptocracy now have a Libertarian Vote hockey stick to contend with. Soon the Alrturian strikers will learn the lesson Lilian Rearden learns from Jim Taggart when she said: “I am sure that I can count on you.” “Of course?only isn’t that an old-fashioned, unphilosophical remark? How can we ever be sure of anything?”

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.